A coach bus carrying the University of Maine women’s basketball team suddenly veered to the left and hit a rumble strip before going airborne and crossing four lanes of traffic in a Tuesday night crash that showered passengers with broken glass.

As the bus plowed through snowbanks and down an embankment, coaches and the driver were thrown to the floor. After the bus stopped against small trees on the side of Interstate 95 north of Boston, passengers climbed down a tree that had been bent over by the crash to get out of the wrecked bus.

Despite a scene described as terrifying by witnesses, players and coaches walked away with minor injuries. The bus driver, who lost consciousness before the crash, is being treated in a Boston hospital but is expected to recover.

Paul Vachon of Augusta, whose daughter Amy Vachon is an assistant coach, said she called his home after the crash. The call was brief.

“She told her mother, ‘I’m all right,’ and then she said, ‘I’ll have to call you back later,'” Vachon said.

Tyson McHatten, assistant manager of media relations for the university, said the crash was horrifying.


“Somebody was watching out for us,” McHatten said when reached by phone in Amesbury, Mass., where he was trying to salvage gear from the crashed bus. “Everyone feels very blessed. … It could have been a lot worse than it was.”

Courtney Anderson, a sophomore guard from Greene, said the team, en route to a game against Boston University, had just reboarded the bus a short while before the 8:30 p.m. accident, after stopping for dinner in Portsmouth. She said the 13 players were sitting toward the rear, mingling and talking, with the coaches up front. Team members heard a commotion “which made us brace ourselves,” she said.

Players said it was a matter of seconds between when they realized something was wrong to the end of the crash.

Another player, Liz Wood, a freshman forward from Catlett, Va., said that from her seat on the right side, she could see headlights of northbound cars on the interstate as the bus crossed over the median and into oncoming traffic before leaving the road.

“That was kind of freaky,” Wood said. “We saw the headlights coming toward us. We were lucky nothing hit us.”

Players and coaches were headed back to Orono late Wednesday morning. All had been taken to Boston area hospitals for observation after the crash.


Milica Mitrovic, a freshman guard from Serbia, was treated at a local hospital for a broken hand. Head coach Richard Barron, who tried to assist after the driver lost consciousness, was treated for facial cuts.

Jeff Hamlin, the bus driver, is in fair condition in a Boston hospital, but he eventually will be transferred to a burn center, according to a spokesman for Cyr Bus Lines in Old Town.

Barron said the team used Cyr Bus Lines for its trips, but Hamlin was not the team’s regular driver. He said he didn’t know why the regular driver was not assigned to the trip Tuesday night. Police said they think Hamlin suffered some sort of medical condition but haven’t said what it might have been.

Drivers who hold a Maine commercial license — required to drive a charter bus — must undergo a medical examination every two years unless they have a condition that would require more frequent tests, according to the Secretary of State’s Office.

Accident recalled

Barron was sitting in the second row when Hamlin lost consciousness and slumped over the steering wheel.


Barron said the accident happened fast and left little time to react.

“I tried to get (to the driver) but was unsuccessful,” he said. “We hit the median and I fell down into the space between the front seat and the stairwell, which probably saved me because I probably would have gone through the windshield.”

Barron said Hamlin also ended up in the stairwell. The bus went airborne after it hit the highway median. Snowbanks helped lessen the impact and slowed down the bus, he said.

Assistant coach Todd Steelman said once the bus hit the rumble strip and median, “it was just a matter of time to ride it out and let everyone know to hold on.” He said there was some yelling for people to “get down” before the bus hit a snowbank and came to rest in the woods.

“It’s funny how many things go through your mind at a time like that: Please don’t let anyone hit us. Please let the bus keep upright,” Steelman said in a phone interview from Massachusetts. “Mostly, it was, ‘Let’s get it over with and get everybody out safe.’ After we came to rest, there was some yelling out, ‘Is everyone OK?’ because we had some (previously) injured players with us. Then it was a matter of trying to get everybody off the bus as safely and quickly as possible.”

Players and coaches were able to get out of the bus by squeezing through a window and slithering down the tree that had been bent over, Barron said.


The players and coaches were taken to three hospitals north of Boston, team officials said. As a precaution, all were put on backboards and taken by ambulance.

Crash investigation

Rick Soules, Cyr’s general manager, spoke with Hamlin’s family Wednesday morning and learned that Hamlin is conscious and speaking with them. Family members told Soules that Hamlin, 55, of Charleston, was burned in the accident and would be transferred for specialized treatment for those injuries, but they were uncertain about the time frame.

Fair condition means Hamlin’s vital signs are stable and within normal limits. He is conscious and may be uncomfortable, but indicators are favorable, according to the hospital’s definition on its website. Fair is one grade below good, and better than serious.

The company celebrated its 100th anniversary last year and Soules said he is unaware of any crash of this magnitude, though he has been with the company for only a few years. According to a database of the Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration, Cyr had a satisfactory rating. The only other rating options are conditional or unsatisfactory.

“The company is really concerned now about our driver, and we are waiting to make sure he is OK,” Soules said.


The database said the bus line had 52 buses inspected in the last two years, with 10 taken out of service, a rate slightly lower than the national average. Eighteen drivers also were inspected, with none barred from driving during the same period, the database showed, and the company reported no accidents in the last two years.

According to the company’s website, Cyr Bus Lines has 280 drivers and operates 22 motorcoaches and 225 school buses. The website said the line’s buses traveled 3.5 million miles in 2012.

“We’ve gone several million miles safely, but whenever something like this happens the company takes it seriously, and our concern goes out for the people involved,” Soules said. “We were very happy to see the University of Maine students are healthy.”

Hamlin and his family declined an interview request, according to a hospital spokeswoman.

The crash is being investigated by Troop A of the Massachusetts State Police with help from the State Police Collision Reconstruction and Analysis Section, the Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Section, and the Crime Scene Services Section.

The crash is being investigated by Troop A of the Massachusetts State Police with help from the State Police Collision Reconstruction and Analysis Section, the Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Section, and the Crime Scene Services Section.


The crime scene unit routinely goes to major crashes to photograph and collect physical evidence, and its presence does not suggest anything criminal, a police spokesman said.

Police will determine whether the bus has an electronic module, much like an airplane’s “black box,” which would show data such as speed, braking and other vehicle information in the seconds before the crash. Maj. Arthur Sugrue, of the Massachusetts State Police, said there was nothing to suggest Hamlin was under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

State police investigators were able to interview Hamlin at Boston Medical Center. His injuries included several broken bones, police said.

Police are unlikely to charge Hamlin in connection with the crash but will make sure that his medical records are up to date, a police spokesman said.

UMaine Athletic Director Steve Abbott said Tuesday the crash occurred after Hamlin apparently passed out and lost control.

Abbott said a UMaine staff member who was on the bus told him that Barron tried to grab the wheel as the bus crossed the median and then the northbound traffic lanes before stopping upright in a wooded area off the highway.


“He crossed three lanes of traffic and miraculously did not hit another car,” Abbott said.

Barron, the head coach, said he is unsure of the status of the team’s final game Saturday night until he knows whether he has enough players. The team has 4-23 record for the season.

“We had some terrible luck throughout the season, but we saved it all up for last night,” Barron said. “We’re very grateful that everybody is alive (and) we’re very grateful that we didn’t sustain more serious injuries. We feel very, very blessed … that’s probably the biggest takeaway.”

UMaine’s game against Boston University, which was supposed to take place Wednesday night, was cancelled. The team’s last regular-season game, scheduled for Saturday afternoon in Orono against the University of New Hampshire, is up in the air.

The team is scheduled to open the America East conference tournament next Thursday in Albany, N.Y., but school officials said the status of that game also was uncertain Wednesday.

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