Passengers say bus driver was going too fast in Stafford County crash
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Sometime before a passenger bus overturned on Interstate 95 early Monday morning, Sheldon Thaon says he shouted at the driver to “slow down.”
“I probably yelled that a couple times,” recalled Thaon, 39, one of 58 passengers on the discount bus en route from New York to Georgia.
Despite those appeals, he said, the Princess Tours Inc. bus eventually spun out of control in the midst of a snowstorm in Stafford County before landing on its right side—the side where Thaon was seated.
People fell on top of him, as if they were “falling out of the sky,” he recalled. He thought about his children, ages 4 and 14, in the moments before impact.
“I’m so happy I didn’t bring them,” said Thaon, who was visiting family in New York with his wife, Jameelah. “They wanted to come so bad.”
To make matters worse, Thaon says he lost his slippers and was forced to stand outside in his bare feet. A firefighter eventually brought an object for him to stand on, and Mary Washington Hospital later provided socks, he said.
“I had a bad vibe when I got on the bus,” Thaon said.
He was one of 17 passengers taken to Mary Washington Hospital in Fredericksburg following the accident.
Seven passengers were transported to Stafford Hospital and 22 to Spotsylvania Regional Medical Center.
State police said four of those passengers suffered serious but non-life-threatening injuries.
The driver, 50-year-old Qilong Xiao of Flushing, N.Y., was charged with reckless driving. Speed was a factor in the wreck, police said.
Shanora Moore, an Atlanta native, was one of those treated at Spotsylvania Regional. She said people were underneath her “crying out for help” when she woke up with her chest pressed against a bus seat.
“There was a woman trying to get up, and I told her to just climb up my legs,” said Moore, who was wearing a neck brace for a pre-existing injury that she says was aggravated by the crash.
Nearby, a panicked man was trying to kick out one of the bus’s windows, she said.
“The impact of the bus was so hard that people lost their shoes and socks,” Moore said. “I lost one of my shoes … but when I went to go outside, God put a shoe my size in front of me.”
Moore, who used to be a law enforcement officer before going back to school, said her police instincts kicked in. She helped other passengers escape through a broken windshield.
Thaon said he suffered bruised ribs and that “anytime I breathe it hurts.” A friend had to be flown to VCU Medical Center after suffering numerous injuries, he said, including a collapsed lung.
Mary Washington spokeswoman Debbie McInnis said four of the bus riders were admitted to the Fredericksburg hospital and another was taken to VCU, but she did not know their conditions.
Thaon and other less seriously injured passengers boarded another bus at about 1:30 p.m. “I’m going to be nervous the whole way there,” Thaon said.
David James, 42, another passenger treated at MWH, was on his way to Charlotte, N.C., where he’s taking classes at ITT Tech. He and Thaon said the bus driver almost lost control about five minutes before the wreck.
“It was scary, but he got back under control, and the next thing you know, he just kept on going fast,” James said of the driver.
James, who had a bloody tissue in his right nostril and swelling under his left eye, said he fractured some of his ribs during the accident.
Still, he said he’s thankful he survived. “I’m like, phew, this is the best scenario,” James said. “Two broke ribs, a busted face—I’ll take it.”
James and Thaon said their bus tickets were just $60. In retrospect, Thaon said, “saving a couple dollars is not worth it sometimes.”
“I don’t think I’ll be getting on any buses at all in the future,” he said. “It’s just shaken me up a lot.”
Jeff Branscome: 540/374-5402