FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — It was supposed to be a day of fun in the Florida Everglades, a perfect end to a weeklong New Year’s cruise in the Caribbean.
But the South Florida outing ended abruptly for dozens of tourists Saturday morning, when a sports car spun out of control on Interstate 595 and hit their tour bus, sending it across a median and through oncoming eastbound traffic before it grazed an exit ramp wall.
Shortly after 9 a.m., paramedics, police and deputies from Davie, Plantation and the Broward Sheriff’s Office responded to the accident scene just west of the State Road 7 exit and set up a triage area where they treated 42 tour bus passengers, Braulio Rosa, spokesman for Davie Fire Rescue, said.
In all, 32 people were transported to Broward General Medical Center, in Fort Lauderdale, and Memorial Regional Hospital, in Hollywood, Rosa said.
There were no deaths, but one person in serious condition was flown to Broward General, Rosa added.
Traffic was shut down for more than an hour in both directions of the busy Interstate highway after the accident. Both the tour bus and the black Mustang had been heading west on the rain-slicked road when Davie resident Omar Abu-Jabir, the driver of the Mustang, apparently lost control of his vehicle and hit the tour bus, Sgt. Mark Wysocky, spokesman for the Florida Highway Patrol, said.
The bus, driven by Gustavo Ordu ez, 62, of Hialeah, swerved across the road, broke through the median railing and crossed the eastbound lanes, eventually stopping on a grassy shoulder against the wall of the State Road 7 northbound exit ramp.
The Mustang, partially crushed and charred from the impact, came to rest on the median. Abu-Jabir, 34, was hospitalized in critical condition, according to Wysocky.
“The Mustang was in really bad shape,” Rosa said. “It looked pretty much totaled.”
Relatives of Abu-Jabir could not be reached for comment Saturday night. Records show his driving history include charges for speeding, improper lane changes, driving with a suspended license, failure to pay traffic fines and driving with an expired tag.
As paramedics rescued passengers from the tour bus, many retrieved their luggage and hugged each other to shake off the shock, Rosa said.
“People were a little disoriented but they seemed to be in decent spirits considering they had just gone through a tremendous trauma,” he said.
Many drivers along Interstate 595 got out of their cars as they waited in gridlocked traffic. The road was reopened around 10:30 a.m.
Doctors at Broward General said they received a total of 19 accident victims. Two remained in critical condition Saturday afternoon, one with severe injuries and bleeding in the brain, “but not the kind that surgical intervention might help,” according to Dr. Moshe Stav, a trauma surgeon in the emergency room.
Five other passengers suffered serious but nonlife-threatening wounds, and the rest were treated for soft-tissue injuries and knee fractures, as well as bumps and bruises, Stav said.
The surgeon described the minor injuries as “things that are ugly but not life threatening that may require plastic reconstructive surgery later on,” adding that the skin of many passengers had been lacerated and partially peeled off.
Outside Broward General, Ordu ez family members waited Saturday evening as the bus driver recovered inside.
“My uncle, he’s doing OK,” said Norma Barrios, 41, of Hialeah. “But he has a lot of pain.”
She said Ordu ez suffered a broken arm, at least three broken fingers and cuts and bruises to his head. She said that he was conscious and able to relay a little of what he remembered of the crash.
“He saw the car coming and he couldn’t stop,” Barrios said. “It was a car in front of him, it was spinning. The car hit the front of the bus.”
Barrios said Ordu ez had been wearing a seat belt, but was ejected from his seat by the impact.
The tourists in his charge had disembarked from a cruise aboard Holland America’s MS Maasdam at Port Everglades and were heading out on a day tour of the Everglades before returning home.
The bus was operated by Miami-based Endeavor Bus Lines. The company issued a statement late Saturday saying: “We are saddened by the accident that happened today January 5, 2008. The accident is being investigated both internally and by official agencies.”
The bus accident occurred just weeks after Davie Fire Rescue members participated in “mass-casualty training,” which Rosa, the department’s spokesman, said helped emergency rescuers be ready for Saturday’s accident.
“It got us prepared to deal with this kind of situation,” Rosa said.
Staff Writer Brian Haas and Staff Researcher William Lucey contributed to this report.Elizabeth Baier can be reached at [email protected] or 954-356-4637.