Charges filed in fatal I-95 bus crash

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Monday, August 3, 2015
Charges filed in fatal I-95 bus crash
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It happened just after 4 a.m. Sunday on I-95, just north of the I-40 interchange.

BENSON, N.C. (WTVD) -- The bus driver involved in a fatal crash on Interstate 95 over the weekend is facing charges.

The bus driver, 23-year-old Eric Jimmerson from New York City, along with two other crash survivors, are still being treated at WakeMed Hospital in Raleigh after the bus crossed the median and hit a car.

It happened just after 4 a.m. Sunday on I-95, just north of the I-40 interchange near mile marker 81 in Benson.

Authorities said the southbound passenger bus hit a guardrail and went across the median. According to officials, Jimmerson fell asleep at the wheel.

He was ejected from the bus during the collision. He was taken to WakeMed, where he remains in critical condition.

He's charged with careless and reckless driving and misdemeanor death by motor vehicle.

Another bus company employee spent almost 20 minutes on the phone with 911 after the crash trying to help passengers and Jimmerson.

Click to listen to the 911 call

A Ford Mustang traveling northbound tried to swerve to avoid hitting the bus. The Mustang, driven by 68-year-old Wilfredo Ortiz, struck a tree and came to a stop after avoiding the collision. Wilfredo Ortiz's wife, Enid Ortiz, died on the scene, according to troopers. She was 54.

Officials said the Ortizes, from Palm Beach, Fla., were traveling with their grandchildren, ages 12 and 13. Wilfredo Ortiz and his grandchildren were taken to WakeMed with non-life threatening injuries.

Click to listen to the 911 call

Troopers later told ABC11 that one of the children was taken to surgery and as of Monday morning, is recovering in ICU. The other child was checked out at the hospital and released.

Wilfredo Ortiz was treated and released from the hospital on Sunday afternoon.

A state trooper told ABC11 Jimmerson had surgery and his mom is coming down from New York to be with him.

The bus continued without a driver, going back across the median and coming to a stop in the southbound lane. A bus passenger told ABC11 he tried to take over the wheel, after he said the bus driver was slumped over the steering wheel.

Officials said five people on the bus were taken to Betsy Johnson Hospital in Dunn and were later released. There were 48 passengers on the bus headed for the Science of the Soul Study Center in Fayetteville.

"We have about 7,000 [people] coming in from out of town," said Science of Soul spokesperson Rajan Shamdasani. "You start off early morning excited about your retreat and you hear about this sort of tragedy, it just totally devastates you."

The bus was owned by Apex Coach Company, which is based out of Brooklyn, N.Y. A dispatcher told ABC11 no one was available to comment on the fatal accident.

A nearby Burger King restaurant was used as a refuge for those on board the bus. Burger King employee Bobby Covington heard from passengers about the terrifying moment when the driver nodded off behind the wheel.

"The bus was driving by itself and someone jumped up and started steering the bus and saved everybody's life," described Covington.

That someone is 36-year-old Sachin Banga who was traveling with his wife and son.

He recalls what happened saying, "I heard a noise from the driver. When I looked he was laying down on the wheel then the bus shook. All I knew is that this bus need to be stopped. Somebody has to try to stop it and I was right there."

Banga jumped into the driver seat and applied the brakes to veer the bus back in the right direction.

Retreat organizers sent a shuttle to Benson to pick up the passengers.

"Obviously, it's created a major damper on the get together," Shamdasani said. "It's not easy to absorb this type of news. You can't brush it off. It's loss of life. Somebody's life was just taken away. It impacts you in a significant way. They're in our prayers."

An inspection of the bus by a motor carrier officer found no violations. The driver log is now under review to determine how many hours Jimmerson had been driving.

Charges are pending for Jimmerson.

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