A bus carrying members of the Bellevue High School football team overturned on its side on Interstate 5 this morning.
A charter bus carrying 38 people, most of them members of the Bellevue High School football team, overturned on its side on Interstate 5 after it swerved to avoid a ladder that had fallen from another vehicle onto the freeway.
Injuries are believed to be minor in the crash, which happened at 10:56 this morning in the southbound lanes of I-5 south near Des Moines. The bus was one of two carrying coaches, players and others to the Tacoma Dome, where the team was scheduled to play Capital High of Olympia in the Class AAA semifinals. The game was canceled and has been rescheduled for Monday.
According to the State Patrol, eight people were transferred to hospitals, including six football players. The most serious injury was a concussion.
“None of the injuries is life-threatening,” said team trainer Bethany Desimone, who was on the bus. “But we do have some cases of whiplash and back injuries.”
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The injured were taken to several different hospitals. Some players were taken to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. Two players who suffered minor injuries were taken to Valley Medical Center in Renton, and one player went to Highline Medical Center.
State Patrol Trooper Cliff Pratt said 38 people were on the charter bus, most of them starting players. Most players were wearing their game pants and pads, which probably prevented more injuries, he said.
Head coach Butch Goncharoff said of the players, “They aren’t OK. I don’t think anyone is seriously hurt or life-threateningly hurt. But there are a lot of beat up kids who are pretty bad.”
A couple of the injured players were all-conference players, he said. Leonard Wolfork, 18, a senior defensive end, was one of the players brought to Valley Medical Center in Renton. He suffered bruises and minor cuts.
“The first I knew, I looked up and I saw the bus swerving. I knew we were about to crash,” he said at the hospital.
He said it felt as though the bus had hit a wall of dirt and concrete. “And I think that’s what made it flip over.”
“We were lucky. Very lucky. We were probably going about 60 when it flipped. It happened really, really fast,” he said.
Chase Propst, 17, and also a defensive end, said he was sleeping when the bus rolled on its side.
“I woke up and the bus was falling,” he said.
The next thing he knew, people were helping each other out of the bus.
“Players were helping players, coaches were helping players, everybody was helping,” he said.
He also was taken to Valley Medical Center where he was treated for a cut on his hand.
Goncharoff said he doubted the injured players would be able to play in the game Monday. But “we’ll get a team together to play.”
The rescheduled game will take place at 7 p.m. Monday Harry Lang Stadium in Lakewood, Pierce County. Tickets purchased at the Tacoma Dome for today’s game will be honored Monday.
Pratt said an unidentified vehicle lost a ladder on the freeway, causing several others vehicles to swerve out of the way. A semitruck and two passenger cars were also involved in the collision, he said.
“This is at this point a criminal investigation. We are looking for who lost that ladder. If it weren’t for that ladder, we’d be playing football right now,” Pratt said.
Jake Hiller, a 17-year-old tackle, was sitting in the back row of the bus when the accident happened.
“We were slowing down and swerved to the right, off the road. Everybody was kind of screaming. The bus flipped onto its side and skidded,” he said.
Hiller said he was dizzy and suffered some cuts and scrapes. He was taken to Highline Medical Center.
Jake’s father, Steve Hiller, was at home preparing to leave for the Tacoma Dome when he got word of the accident.
“We’re just really glad it wasn’t more serious, and we’ll be back to play another day,” he said.
Desimone, the team’s 24-year-old trainer, had a second-row view as the accident unfolded.
She said the bus was in a center lane of the freeway when traffic ahead of them slowed. The bus veered into a lane to the right, collided with the back of a truck and semitrailer, and then ran into the embankment on the side of the road where it flipped onto its side.
The collision with the back of the truck just felt like a “tap” she said, because the truck was still moving. But the crash into the embankment was “pretty hard. It flew people in the air.”
Desimone said people in the bus were relatively calm as the crash unfolded. After they came to a stop, the coaches told the passengers to remain calm and asked for anyone who was hurt to identify themselves. Then they got out of the bus through an emergency exit in the roof and through the front windshield, which was shattered in the crash.
A team fan, described as a “superfan” who is approximately 60 years old and attends every game, was bleeding from a head injury, said Desimone, who helped tend to him. She said some other people suffered injuries from broken glass or whiplash.
The markings on the bus identified it as belonging to Chinook Charter Service.
Greg Cowan, a third-year assistant coach, was aboard the other bus carrying team members. They were unaware of the crash until someone received a call from another coach.
“We’re happy everybody is alive,” said Cowan. “We could care less about a football game.”
Capital High’s head Coach, John Johnson, said he learned of the accident from an official with the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association. He brought his players into their locker room at the Tacoma Dome and gave them the news.
“The football game wasn’t the most important thing at that point in time anymore,” he said.
Seattle Times staff reporters Sandy Ringer, Bob Young, and Sanjay Bhatt contributed to the report.