February 27, 2013

'Somebody was watching out for us'

By David Hench dhench@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

and Glenn Jordan gjordan@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

A day after their Boston-bound bus veered across four lanes of interstate traffic and went airborne before smashing into a stand of trees, members of the University of Maine women's basketball team described terrifying moments of oncoming headlights, breaking glass and scalding steam.

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UMaine assistant coach Jhasmin Player, right, receives a hug from former director of basketball operations Tracey Guerette, as the women's basketball team returned to Orono on Wednesday evening, Feb. 27, 2013, after being involved in a harrowing crash on I-95 in Massachusetts on Tuesday night.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

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Massachusetts State Police examine the front of a bus that crashed in Georgetown, Mass., on Tuesday while carrying University of Maine women's basketball players to a game.

The Associated Press

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Location map: Georgetown, MA

As the bus plowed through snowbanks and down an embankment Tuesday night, coaches and the driver were thrown to the floor. The bus stopped when it hit a patch of small trees tucked between larger trunks on the northbound side of Interstate 95 in Georgetown, Mass.

To get out of the wrecked bus, the 20 players, coaches and staff members squeezed out a window and shimmied down a tree that had been bent over by the crash. None suffered more than minor injuries.

The bus driver, who lost consciousness before the crash, was being treated in a Boston hospital Wednesday and was expected to recover.

"Somebody was watching out for us," said Tyson McHatten, assistant manager of media relations for the university.

"Everyone feels very blessed," he said by phone from Amesbury, Mass., where he was trying to retrieve gear from the bus Wednesday morning. "It could have been a lot worse than it was."

Coach Richard Barron, who was treated for facial cuts, said Wednesday that he tried to grab the steering wheel after the driver, Jeff Hamlin of Charleston, lost consciousness.

Barron said he was sitting in the second row of seats when Hamlin slumped over the steering wheel. "I tried to get to him ... but was unsuccessful.

"It was very fast. It wasn't a whole lot of time for reaction. ... We kind of felt the bus start to turn, to veer," Barron said.

"As we were in the median, you could see the oncoming traffic, then it was pretty violent," Barron said. "The next thing you see are the (bus's) lights on the trees -- they shine up pretty bright -- and the crash. ... You force your eyes shut on that."

He said that as the bus hit the median, he fell into the space between the front seat and the stairwell, "which probably saved me because I probably would have gone through the windshield."

Hamlin also wound up in the stairwell.

"The impact of the median kind of knocked everybody down, which was a good thing," Barron said. The snowbanks helped lessen the impact," and the bus ran into saplings while missing bigger trees.

Steam sprayed from the front of the damaged bus, he said, and it likely burned Hamlin.

Hamlin was hospitalized in fair condition Wednesday. He eventually will be transferred to a burn center, a family member told a spokesman for Cyr Bus Lines in Old Town.

Barron said there was no indication that anything was wrong with Hamlin until the coaches saw him slumped over the wheel.

He said the team uses Cyr Bus Lines for its trips, but Hamlin was not the team's regular driver.

Police said they believe that Hamlin suffered a medical problem, but haven't said what it might have been.

Maine requires drivers of charter buses to hold commercial licenses, for which they must have medical exams every two years unless they have conditions that require more frequent exams, according to the Secretary of State's Office. Drivers also must pass written and driving tests.

Courtney Anderson, a sophomore guard from Greene, said the team had just finished the dinner it had picked up in Portsmouth, N.H. Around 8:30 p.m., the 12 players were toward the rear of the bus, talking, with the coaches up front.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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Assistant coach Amy Vachon receives a hug from former director of basketball operations Tracey Guerrette as the University of Maine women's basketball team returned to Orono on Wednesday evening, Feb. 27, 2013, after being involved in a harrowing crash on I-95 in Massachusetts on Tuesday night.

Gabe Souza

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This photo of the bus crash scene Tuesday night in Georgetown, Mass., was taken from a Massachusetts State Police helicopter.

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Members of the University of Maine women's basketball team stop at the Kennebunk rest area on the Maine Turnpike on their return to Orono following a bus accident in Massachusetts Tuesday evening. Brittany Wells, a freshman guard from Fishers, Ind., gives the thumbs up sign as she left the bus. At left is Yankee Lines bus driver Jason Stirk.

John Patriquin / Staff Photographer

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Police work at the scene in Georgetown, Mass., on Tuesday where a bus carrying University of Maine women's basketball players crashed on Interstate 95 north of Boston.

The Associated Press

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The University of Maine women's basketball team returned to Orono on Wednesday evening, Feb. 27, 2013, after being involved in a harrowing crash on I-95 in Massachusetts on Tuesday night.

Gabe Souza / Staff Photographer

 


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