Leader Blues

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

TOP STORY >>Woman detained in I-40 bus crash

A distraught woman who forced a Greyhound bus to crash into the woods off I-40 in Lonoke County on Monday is being held at the state hospital for a mental evaluation.

After the tests are completed, authorities said, Victoria Combs, 27, will be taken to the Lonoke County Jail, where the allegedly delusional passenger could be charged for forcing the bus off the highway and into marshy woods. The woman, who is from Oklahoma, tried to seize control of the steering wheel from the driver, but no one was killed.

The State Police, Lonoke County Sheriff’s Office and South Bend Volunteer Fire Department crews were at the scene continuing their investigations past midnight Monday.

Lt. Jim Kulesa, of the Lonoke County Sheriff’s Office, said, “Deputy David Houser was out there until 11:30 p.m. helping with the scene.

“When Combs is booked at Lonoke, she will receive her first court appearance date,” Kulesa added. The bus was pulled from the woods in two hours by Rich’s Wrecker Service and parked at the towing company’s lot in Lonoke.

George Rich, company owner, said, “Greyhound is making arrangements to move the bus by Wednesday morning. It will go to Kentucky for rebuilding or Dallas for disposing. The steering is damaged, the nose is smashed and the windshield came out.”
Eleven people were taken to hospitals after the crash at about 5:45 p.m., according to state police Cpl. Adrian Ray, including the passenger who tried to take control of the bus.

“It was like we were lifted off the ground, and we were flying through the trees,” passenger Paula Smith, 41, of Indianapolis, said after the crash.

The woman who grabbed for the steering wheel of the westbound bus fled out the door after it came to rest sharply tilted to one side, but other passengers chased her down and held her until police arrived, according to an account from one passenger.

On Tuesday, State Police spokesman Bill Sadler said Combs was being held at the Arkansas State Hospital as doctors test her “mental capacity to distinguish who she is and where she is,” as well as what she remembered from the crash. Sadler said none of the injuries from the crash appeared to be life-threatening. He said Combs would be arrested and taken to the Lonoke County Jail after her release from the hospital.

The accident occurred near the Remington Road intersection with I-40 just east of the Pulaski-Lonoke County line, about 30 miles east-northeast of Little Rock, Sadler said. The bus traveled about 25 yards into the brush and, after the crash, could barely be seen from the highway.

A spokeswoman for Greyhound said 49 people were aboard the bus. The bus began its trip at Richmond, Va., and its eventual destination was Dallas.

Passenger Charlotte Simmons, 29, of Hot Springs said Combs had been acting erratically since she boarded the bus in Nashville, Tenn.

“She got on with a police escort, saying she was afraid someone was going to kill her,” Simmons said.

An employee with the Nashville police who declined to give her name said a check by the department found no dayshift officers who reported putting a woman on the Dallas-bound bus. Officials with the department did not immediately return calls for comment Tuesday.

Sadler said troopers received conflicting statements from both passengers and the driver about whether the woman boarded the bus in Nashville or Memphis, Tenn. Calls to Memphis police were not immediately returned Tuesday.

About 25 minutes before the crash, Combs went to the front of the bus and complained to the driver that other passengers were spraying drugs in her face, and her face was burning, Simmons said. The driver pulled over at a rest stop and went to the back of the bus to investigate the complaint, Simmons said. When the bus got back on the road, Combs returned to the front, sitting on the steps near the door.

“Then Combs got up, grabbed the wheel and we all just went flying,” Simmons said.

State Police received a call from someone on the bus at 5:44 p.m., Sadler said, reporting that a passenger “had become unruly and was attempting to take control of the bus.”

A state trooper was dispatched to find the bus, but before the officer located the vehicle, another call came in at 5:46 p.m. reporting that the bus had crashed.

According to Sadler, a small fire may have broken out immediately after the crash, but was quickly extinguished. The bus came to rest tilted sharply onto its right side, with the door opening into a marshy area, Simmons said. She said most of the passengers climbed out the windows on the other side - though the woman who had caused the wreck used the door, with other passengers following quickly in pursuit.

About 6:30 p.m., police flagged down another Greyhound bus that had some empty seats and it took some of the passengers from the wrecked bus to the North Little Rock terminal. A half-hour later, an Executive Coach bus, chartered by Greyhound, arrived to pick up the remaining passengers.

The driver of the wrecked bus, Wayne Owens of Royse City, Texas, who appeared to have scratches on one of his arms, boarded the chartered bus without speaking to reporters. Greyhound spokeswoman Anna Folmnscee said the bus company would make sure the passengers’ needs were met, including providing hotel rooms if necessary.

On Oct. 3, 2001, a man slashed the driver of a Greyhound bus in Tennessee with a knife, causing a crash that killed seven people, including attacker Damir Igric, a 29-year-old Croatian.

The accident shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks shut down all bus service for several hours and prompted calls to better protect drivers from passengers.

Leader staff writer Jeffrey Smith and the Associated Press contributed to this article.