A tractor-trailer veered across the median of a major interstate highway in Oklahoma late Friday and crashed into the side of a Texas women’s college softball team bus, killing four players and injuring a dozen other people.
The collision involving the North Central Texas College team happened at around 9 p.m. Friday on Interstate 35 south of Davis, Oklahoma, which is about 70 miles south of Oklahoma City. The team was heading home from a scrimmage against Southern Nazarene University, in Bethany, Oklahoma.
Oklahoma Highway Patrol identified the driver of the 18-wheel tractor-trailer as Russell Staley, 53, of Saginaw, Texas. He was treated in hospital and released. It was not immediately clear why the northbound truck lurched across the median and into the southbound lanes, or whether the driver has been charged with any offense. Police said they would investigate the accident as if it were a homicide.
The tragedy shocked the close-knit Texas community college, where counselors were brought in to console grieving students and athletic teams on trips for away competitions were called home.
“This is the most traumatic event that NCTC has had in its 90 years of history,” North Central Texas College President Brent Wallace said at a press conference Saturday in Gainesville, Texas, about 60 miles south of where the crash happened.
The four players killed were identified as Meagan Richardson, 19, Brooke Deckard, 20, Katelynn Woodlee, 18, and Jaiden Pelton 20, according to the highway patrol.
Oklahoma Highway Patrol Capt. Ronnie Hampton said Friday that three of the players died at the scene and a fourth died at a hospital in nearby Sulphur, Oklahoma.
Wallace said 15 players were in the bus driven by a coach. Eight players were treated and released and three others remained in hospital in stable condition, the highway patrol said. The coach was treated and released.
A woman who answered the phone at the coach’s home on Saturday said he was not going to talk about the accident now.
The college’s police chief James Fitch described the crash scene as “chaos.” He said 11 ambulances and several helicopters had responded and by the time he arrived all of the women had been transported.
The front end of the team bus was virtually untouched, but the sides of the vehicle were heavily damaged. Troopers and witnesses said the driver’s side of the bus sustained the worst damage.
Hampton said the truck kept going and went off the side of the road after it hit the bus.
“It took about an hour before we found the semi,” he said.
The National Transportation Safety Board said Saturday that it was sending a team of investigators to the site.
Hampton said the Highway Patrol’s investigation would take several weeks.
“Right now, it’s being investigated like a homicide,” Hampton said, adding that both drivers will undergo standard toxicology tests. Hampton said details of the crash were still not known but “something happened to cause (the semitrailer driver) to depart the roadway and impact the other vehicle.”
A posting on the North Central Texas College Facebook page reads: “We ask for your prayers at this time for our softball team.”
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