Arizona man among 3 killed in Greyhound bus crash near St. Louis

Jul 13, 2023, 10:08 AM | Updated: 9:06 pm

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Federal investigators on Thursday began the task of trying to determine what caused a Greyhound bus crash in southern Illinois that killed three passengers.

The accident just before 2 a.m. Wednesday happened when the bus carrying a driver and 22 passengers slammed into three tractor-trailers parked along an Interstate 70 exit ramp near St. Louis.

Those killed were identified as Juan Vasquez-Rodriguez, 34, of Passaic, New Jersey; Buford Paya, 71, of Supai, Arizona; and Bradley Donovan, 47, of Springfield, Illinois. Madison County Coroner Stephen Nonn said preliminary findings showed all three men died of blunt trauma.

The bus was traveling from Indianapolis to St. Louis. It isn’t yet known why it was on the exit ramp that leads to a rest area near Highland, Illinois, about 25 miles (40 kilometers) short of the Greyhound’s destination. No one in the trucks was hurt.

The vehicle was equipped with cameras facing both inward and outward, and their video will be analyzed, National Transportation Safety Board member Tom Chapman said. He added that the 2014-model bus had seatbelts.

What caused the Greyhound bus crash in St. Louis?

A team of NTSB investigators is expected to be on-site for up to six days, and Chapman said the trucks’ presence on the ramp “will be a part of this investigation.”

Parking spots are at a premium in public rest areas, and truckers often park along exit ramps at night. The practice is illegal in Illinois and many other states, but police often ignore it, understanding the shortage of places for overnight truck parking.

“Certainly we’ll be looking at the location, the proximity of the parked trucks, such details as the width, the length of the ramp,” Chapman said.

Photos and video from the scene showed the side of the bus peeled open and its roof crumpled.

Passenger Edwin Brown, 22, of Friars Point, Mississippi, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that he felt the bus shake as it passed over rumble strips before the side of the vehicle “opened up like a can opener.” The driver was in and out of consciousness after the crash as Brown turned the ignition off with the help of a trucker, he said.

The bus driver was hospitalized in serious condition, according to a Facebook post by the Amalgamated Transit Union, which represents Greyhound drivers.

Paya, whom friends called Buffalo because he was so burly, was a member of the Havasupai Tribe that is nestled inside the Grand Canyon. Leaving his community meant going by helicopter to the rim or an 8-mile walk or horseback ride, said his niece, Marian Paya Marshall, of Flagstaff, Arizona.

Still he sometimes showed up without warning, calling her from along a nearby highway and asking her for a ride. “How,” she would ask, “did you get here?”

Then would ensue a wild tale, which sometimes involved hitchhiking, she said. Other times he would catch a bus or simply walk.

“He was so silly,” she said describing him as a jokester, with a love of horses. “And we’d say, ‘How come you didn’t call us?’ And he’ll say, ‘I just felt like exploring.’”

A GoFundMe page was set up to raise money to help the family of Vasquez-Rodriguez transport his body to Peru. A family friend who set it up, Gabriela Benitez, wrote in Spanish that Vasquez-Rodriguez left Peru “looking for a future and a better future for his entire family. There are no words to comfort at a time like this and that is why financial aid would help them alleviate the great sorrow a little.”

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Arizona man among 3 killed in Greyhound bus crash near St. Louis