As an Army reservist, Justin Furr knows there’s plenty to worry about: The possibility of getting hurt by weapons during training or the danger of getting killed by bullets or improvised explosive devices if he’s sent into combat overseas.
But until Friday, the 19-year-old Concord resident said, it never crossed his mind that he needed to be concerned about the bus ride home from annual training.
Furr was among those aboard the bus that crashed in Iredell County on Friday afternoon, injuring 44 Army reservists.
He and many of his fellow reservists – exhausted from three weeks of hard training in Wisconsin and from waking at 4 a.m. Friday – had been napping when the bus went off rain-slicked N.C. 150/152.
“I woke up to see the bus going over the hill,” he said. “It was really scary.”
When the bus toppled on its right side, where Furr was sitting, most of the windows on that side shattered. Other reservists flew across the bus on top of him. Hurt and confused, some soldiers began shouting, screaming and crying.
Several suffered broken bones, Furr said. One had a fractured hip. Another may have suffered a ruptured spleen, he said.
Twenty-nine soldiers were hospitalized and 15 more were treated at the scene, the N.C. Highway Patrol said.
All but one of the injured soldiers had been released from area hospitals by Saturday, said Master Sgt. Patrick Compton, an Army spokesman. The one soldier who remained hospitalized – Spc. Rodney McDonald – was in stable condition at Lake Norman Regional Medical Center in Mooresville, Compton said.
McDonald’s condition is improving, Compton said. “He is sore, but he is in high spirits,” the spokesman said.
Furr, a mechanic for the Army Reserve whose civilian job involves working in a Salisbury warehouse for Food Lion, was not badly hurt. But he knows many of his fellow soldiers weren’t so lucky.
“You don’t expect the most dangerous situation to be here at home,” he said.
The driver of the bus, Christopher Reed of Randleman, has been charged with a traffic infraction. Reed, who appears to have an otherwise clean driving record, has been charged with failing to maintain a vehicle in a single lane of travel, according to Trooper Brett Marr of the Highway Patrol.
The bus was carrying 45 soldiers with the 991st Transportation Company from Charlotte Douglas International Airport to the National Guard Armory in Salisbury. The reservists were returning home from their training session at Fort McCoy Army Base in Wisconsin.
The bus was heading east on the two-lane road when the driver tried to stop for a car making a left turn, Marr said. He braked hard, and the bus veered off the right side of the road, Marr said. The bus then slid down an 8-foot embankment before turning on its side.
There’s no indication that the driver had exceeded the road’s 45-mph speed limit, Marr said. But the trooper said he doesn’t know if the bus was following too closely.
“I guess the problem is he just didn’t start slowing down in time,” Marr said.
Furr said that the driver of the car in front of the bus had apparently slammed on its brakes, and that the bus driver also had to brake hard to avoid a collision.
The operator of the bus, Randolph County-based Holiday Tours, is inspecting the vehicle to ensure it was working properly, Marr said. Federal safety files show Holiday Tours has a good record.
‘Think of our troops’
After the wreck, the bus was leaking oil and diesel fuel – a fire hazard – so it was important to get soldiers out quickly, Furr said.
Soldiers and emergency workers broke bus windows to help evacuate injured reservists from the damaged bus.
Medics crawled under the bus to reach one of those hurt, authorities say. That victim was airlifted to Carolinas Medical Center, but she was released Friday evening. The driver was not injured, a Highway Patrol spokeswoman said.
Compton, the Army spokesman, said that the training and civilian experiences of the soldiers helped them keep the scene under control.
“It was a bad situation, but our soldiers did what they were trained to do – they helped treat the wounded and made sure their buddies got out,” he said.
Furr hopes something positive emerges from the crash: a greater public awareness of the sacrifices made by service members.
“We’re getting so much attention because of this accident,” he said. “But I want people to think of our troops more often.”