Five injured in bus accident near Rantoul
UPDATED 7:30 p.m.
RANTOUL - Four people injured when a charter bus driver fell asleep and drove the bus into a median near Rantoul have been treated and released from local hospitals. A fifth was treated at the scene.
About 1:30 p.m., a northbound passenger bus owned by a Mississippi company was carrying a student choir from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff to Chicago when the driver dozed off, causing the bus to go into the median, where it remained upright.
Three students and their choir director were taken by ambulance to Carle Foundation Hospital and Provena Covenant Medical Center in Urbana.
The Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District sent two of its buses to the accident site to bring the remaining passengers back to the Illinois Terminal in downtown Champaign, where they arrived shortly before 5 p.m.
They were expected to transfer to another charter bus and get back on the road to Chicago about 5:30 p.m. The group had left Pine Bluff at 2:30 a.m. Saturday, the first day of a nine-day spring concert tour to Chicago, Milwaukee and Detroit.
"It reminds us how great God is," said trip chaperone Shirley Vaughan, a faculty member accompanying the Vesper Choir.
"When we sing those songs tomorrow, they'll have a new meaning," she said, noting that the title of one song is "Lord, We Give Thanks to Thee."
Vaughan said among the injured was the group's director, Dr. Michael Bates, who she said was more concerned about his students than the injuries he received. She said he was sending her multiple texts from the hospital during his treatment for an apparent back injury.
Police did not have to close the highway but had the passing lane closed for about a half mile to accommodate emergency vehicles.
Edward Johnson, the owner of Starlight T&W Charters in Lexington, Miss., said the bus driver admitted to him that he dozed off.
"There were two drivers. This driver hadn't been driving but about two-and-a-half hours and just dozed off and drove it straight in the middle of the median and bogged it down," said Johnson, who said he's run the company since November 1999.
Police identified the driver as Bennie P. Askew, 74, of Grenada, Miss. He was ticketed for improper lane usage, driving while fatigured, and for a log book violation.
He said neither of his male drivers were hurt.
Vaughan said the distraught driver apologized profusely to the students, who remained on the bus while it was in the median.