Tour Bus Crashes in Minnesota; Company Says Driver Had Aneurysm

November 20, 2009

A tour bus driver suffered a ruptured aneurysm before a crash on a southern Minnesota interstate that killed two people and injured 21 others. That’s according to a spokesman for Strain Bus Line, the company that runs the trips to an Iowa casino.

Spokesman Randy Lavoie says the driver, Ed Erickson of Elgin, suffered the aneurysm in his chest and lost consciousness shortly before the crash on the afternoon of Nov. 18 on Interstate 90 near Austin. Erickson is among 14 people who were hospitalized after the crash.

The company’s owner, Dalmer Strain, previously told the Star Tribune in Minneapolis that Erickson was a veteran driver in his 50s who also had experience driving semitrailer trucks.

Lavoie told the Post-Bulletin of Rochester that Erickson is “quite shaken” and “his first concern was the passengers.”

Minnesota State Patrol spokesman Capt. Matt Langer says it’s “just too early” in the investigation to say what caused the crash.

The bus was traveling east on Interstate 90 just west of Austin on the afternoon of Nov. 18, carrying a group of mostly senior citizens on their way home from a day trip to an Iowa casino. It crossed the median into the westbound lanes, flipped over and ended up on its side in the ditch north of the freeway, said Minnesota Department of Public Safety spokesman Andy Skoogman.

Passenger Ardell Swanson, 71, of Austin, said she was just putting her head back to rest when the bus crashed.

“When I got myself organized there was all kinds of red and white and blue lights flashing,” Swanson said. “There was glass all over.”

The bus was carrying 23 people including the driver. Minnesota State Patrol Capt. Matt Langer said injuries ranged from minor to critical; details about those who died were not immediately released.

Langer said the bus had no seat belts, and when it overturned, some passengers were trapped underneath. Rescue crews were forced to pull off the bus’s windshield because the 47-passenger coach had settled on its right side, blocking the door.

Tammy Eggum of Hayward, who was driving in the other direction at the time of the crash, told the Austin Daily Herald that the bus briefly went airborne before landing on its side.

“It was like the movie ‘Speed,” Eggum told the newspaper.

Swanson was treated at the Austin hospital for what she called minor injuries.

“I’m just going to be really sore,” she said.

The Strain Bus Line runs a bus every Wednesday from Rochester to Diamond Jo Casino in Northwood, Iowa, about 30 miles southwest of Austin.

Bold Lines Inc., which does business under the name Strain Tours, is a small operator with six drivers and four buses and has had no accidents in the past two years, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration Web site.

In 2002, Bold Lines paid $20,000 to settle an enforcement case over drug testing for drivers, according to the federal safety agency. It also paid $300 to settle a case over driver duty times and recordkeeping.

The agency has advised roadside inspectors to inspect the company’s vehicles because of safety concerns, according to the Web site. Its “Inspection Selection System” rated Strain at a 76, with any score between 75 and 100 meaning an inspection is warranted.

Associated Press writers Josh Freed, Amy Forliti, Doug Glass and Patrick Condon contributed from Minneapolis.

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