MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Experience handling some of the nation s most horrendous interstate wrecks put local paramedics and emergency personnel in good stead when called on to respond to the crash that killed three people Sunday night in East Arkansas.
Ambulances from every available agency in East Arkansas and Memphis converged on the scene 10 miles east of Forrest City when a charter bus loaded with 47 people crashed into a pickup, then was hit by an 18-wheeler.
We have done training for this often, and have started different drills, said Insp. Chris Brogdon, director of Emergency Medical Services for the West Memphis Fire Department.
In situations like that, this area works together, he said.
As many as 40 people were taken to hospitals, the most seriously injured to the Regional Medical Center at Memphis, where four people remained in critical condition Tuesday, and to Le Bonheur Children s Medical Center, where two juveniles were in critical condition.
Three people were killed: Danny Okurily, 30, who had an address in Cordova, was driving the pickup. Raul Lopez, 58, of West Chicago, Ill., and Ana Contreras, 41, of Woodlands, Texas, were on the Tornado Bus Co. vehicle on its way from Chicago to Dallas.
Some were residents from Mexico who were returning from the Chicago area after visiting relatives; others were on their way to visit relatives in Mexico.
The bus driver, Felix Tapia, 28, of Brownsville, Texas, suffered minor injuries. He has been questioned by Arkansas State Police troopers, but the agency has not yet released details of what caused the crash.
Memphis Fire Department sent six ambulances to take 13 people, some of the most seriously injured, to Memphis hospitals.
We called for whoever could get out there, Brogdon said. Local hospitals were ready when victims started arriving.
When his units got there, Brogdon said, the victims were organized at a triage area into the critically injured, the noncritically injured, and those who couldn t be helped.
When his unit got there, Crittenden County Ambulance Service paramedic Brad Pendergraft said ambulances were lined up on both sides of the interstate.
Paramedics set about cutting into the damaged bus to pull out the injured.
They were cutting up the bus, trying to get to patients, he said. There was a lot of twisted metal.
Pendergraft transported two victims. One who spoke some English helped translate for the other. One patient, who lives in Mexico, was coming from Wisconsin after visiting a brother-in-law.
In such massively traumatic crashes, he said, head wounds, internal bleeding and spinal injuries are of utmost concern.Pendergraft was in the second ambulance that made the scene of a bus crash near Marion on Oct. 9, 2004, that killed 15 people on their way from Chicago to the Tunica casinos.