Safe ride bus hit by drunken driver

Erica Terrini

News Editor

A crash involving a private passenger bus, which shuttles students and city residents from the Fan District to Shockoe Bottom, and another vehicle occurred in front of a restaurant on the 1500 block of West Main Street at 12:59 a.m. on Saturday.

According to an e-mail advisory from the Richmond Police Department, the To The Bottom and Back bus was stopped in a travel lane of West Main Street in front of the Baja Bean Company when it was struck from behind by a Saturn station wagon. A passenger in the Saturn suffered non-life threatening injuries.

The Saturn was driven by Thomas S. Burt, 31, who has been charged with Driving Under the Influence and No Operator’s License, according to the advisory.

“I heard a pop—it sounded like a water vein had broken,” said Erin Swanson, an advertising graduate student. “That’s what I thought it was but I came over and it was an accident. It took me a second to realize what had happened.”

Swanson was at the restaurant during the crash. She said she did not hear any breaks before the crash and the police, ambulances and fire trucks arrived from all four streets at the intersection of West Main and Lombardy streets. Authorities on scene blocked off the 1500 block of West Main Street.

“We came outside and we saw the To The Bottom and Back bus and there was a car half-way under the corner of the bus,” said Brian Buchwald, who plans to attend VCU in the fall. “They got the driver out and it looked like they were trying to get somebody out of the passenger side. They have an IV hooked up to her. Supposedly it was really quiet and then it hit pretty hard.”

According to Jeff Currie, the battalion chief for the Richmond Fire Department, said emergency units arrived to what appeared to be a Saturn station wagon lodged under the rear of an old school bus, now being used as an activity bus, with one female passenger still pinned in the front passenger seat.

Currie said the call was dispatched at 1:10 a.m., units arrived on scene at 1:13 a.m., extrication began at 1:14 a.m. and extrication was completed at 1:40 a.m.

“It took us approximately 20 minutes to extricate her,” Currie said. “We lifted the bus, which took the pressure off the car, which allowed us to cut the rooftop, remove the rooftop, remove the car from beneath the bus and then we could …  remove her from the vehicle.”

Buchwald said after the crash, customers outside the restaurant moved closer to the sidewalk to view the incident. Units held up sheets to block the crowd’s view of the driver and passenger being removed from the vehicle.

“We put up the sheets just for the purpose of, not modesty, but her comfort because we did have to expose some of her clothing to get an IV in there,” Currie said. “We did start an IV while she was still in the car and that was to relieve any traumatic pressure on her.”

Jim Porter, the founder of the To The Bottom and Back bus, was driving the bus at the time of the accident. He said he had stopped the bus to drop off and pick up passengers at the corner of West Main and Lombardy streets when the car ran into the back of the bus.

“We heard the noise (on) the bus but running into this bus is like hitting a Redwood tree–it’s not going to move,” Porter said. “It’s got 20,000 pounds of steel. I mean these buses are designed to be hit, so we didn’t really feel anything on the bus.We didn’t hear breaks. The reaction was bad when we saw the car was under the bus.”

According to the advisory, the Richmond Police Department is investigating the incident.

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