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A charter bus carrying senior citizens on a gambling trip to Oklahoma crashed Thursday in Irving, killing two women, including the trip’s organizer.
Thursday’s crash was the second fatality accident involving the 65-year-old driver of the bus, Loyd Rieve of Dallas, who was seriously injured in the crash.
A grand jury declined to indict Rieve on a charge of criminally negligent homicide in a 1998 accident. In that case, he was driving a tour bus and ran over a good Samaritan who was helping at an accident scene.
Rieve is a driver for Cardinal Coach Lines of Grand Prairie. Cardinal had a satisfactory federal safety rating in its last inspection in 2011. The company also had emerged from bankruptcy in 2008 and had a federal tax lien filed against it in December.
The two victims were identified as “Casino” Sue Taylor, 81, of Hurst, the organizer of the trip, and Paula Hahn, 69, of Fort Worth.
Area hospitals received 42 other victims, including four who remained in critical condition late Thursday.
The Texas Department of Public Safety is investigating the accident, along with the National Transportation Safety Board. The NTSB investigation is expected to take 12 to 18 months.
Officials declined to speculate on the cause of the crash, but passengers and witnesses described a chaotic scene on the northbound side of State Highway 161 near Belt Line Road.
The site is near the point the road transitions from two lanes as State Highway 161 to three as the Bush Turnpike. The accident tied up traffic in the area for hours.
Shortly after 9 a.m., the bus went off the right side of the road, state troopers said.
After striking a rubber crash barrier on the right-hand side of the pavement, the bus crossed both lanes and struck the concrete barrier in the middle of the highway, pushing it several feet. That’s when it flipped onto the grassy area in the middle of the turnpike, Trooper Lonny Haschel said.
Passenger Daniel Risik, 73, of Fort Worth said he thought the bus lost control after a tire blew out.
“We ended up swirling and weaving and then ended up on the side,” said Risik, who was not seriously injured. “People were screaming and hollering — a very traumatic situation, to say the least.”
The bus had no seat belts and people were tossed throughout the vehicle, Risik said. He heard people talking about a passenger who had lost an arm out the window.
“People were piled on top of each other,” he said. “It was unbelievable. A lady had pinned me. Rescue got there and started pulling people out of a roof emergency hatch. People were hollering, screaming, there was blood all over the place. It was unbelievable.”
The Cardinal Coach Line charter had picked up passengers in Fort Worth and Bedford and was headed to Choctaw Casino in Durant, Okla., where Thursday was “Club 55” day. Customers with a casino rewards card who are 55 years of age or older could get a free breakfast and $10 in free play.
Taylor, the tour organizer, had been putting together similar trips for seniors to casinos for 10 years, though she had not always used Cardinal buses, said her daughter, Marsha Taylor, 56.
Taylor’s gambling trips were “not just those boring trips to WinStar,” her daughter said, adding that it was always a good time.
“They’d bring cookies and play bingo on the way,” she said.
One of Sue Taylor’s best friends lost her arm in the accident, Marsha Taylor said.
Irving police spokesman John Argumaniz described a chaotic scene immediately after the crash.
He said all patrol and tactical officers were pulled from their usual duties and sent to the scene. Dozens of officers and good Samaritans did their best to pull passengers from the wreckage as other emergency personnel arrived. DART sent buses for potential transport.
The most seriously injured, 13 women and two men between the ages of 65 and 80, were taken to Parkland Memorial Hospital. All had multiple injuries but were talking.
Fifteen others with moderate injuries were taken to Baylor Medical Center at Irving, where a few had been released by the afternoon. Two had been released at Parkland.
Others were taken to Las Colinas Medical Center, Methodist Dallas Medical Center, Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas and UT Southwestern University Hospital.
Rieve, the bus driver, was among those taken to Parkland, where he was in intensive care.
Fifteen years ago, he was driving a bus full of bingo players back from Oklahoma City when he struck and killed a good Samaritan 10 miles north of Thursday’s crash.
Chad Rosell and a group of friends were in town from Detroit Lakes, Minn., when their van came upon an accident along Interstate 35E in Carrollton. A car had crashed into the median near Trinity Mills Road, and Rosell, 22, got out of the van to help.
Rosell’s mother, Annette Kienitz, said her son was in the near-empty HOV lane with the injured driver. The ambulances had yet to arrive, she said, and traffic had ground to a halt behind the accident.
Then Rieve’s bus came straight up the HOV lane, Kienitz said.
“He blew right through,” she said. “And that’s when he took out Chad.”
A preliminary investigation found that Rieve was not at fault in the crash. Instead, police looked into reports of bad lighting on the freeway.
Rieve’s employers at the time, Central West of Texas, called him “a very good driver” for the last six years.
“I haven’t slept at all,” Rieve told The Dallas Morning News after the crash. “I’m still very shook up.”
A grand jury later declined to indict Rieve on a charge of criminally negligent homicide.
Claiming that Rieve failed to slow down and had a history of traffic collisions, Rosell’s parents sued the bus company. The verdict was mixed. The jury found Central West guilty of gross negligence but determined Rosell was mostly at fault for the collision. The good Samaritan’s parents received no damages for his death.
“Oh my God,” Kienitz said after learning of Thursday’s crash. “I was hoping and praying he was taken out of employment.”
Cardinal Coach Lines Inc., owned by Matt and Teresa Biran of Mansfield, achieved a satisfactory safety rating in its latest review March 22, 2009. It runs five buses and has seven licensed drivers. The Birans could not be reached for comment Thursday.
The Texas Department of Public Safety found two violations during an inspection of the bus line April 4. For one, a driver was cited for speeding. Also, a logbook wasn’t properly filled out.
Cardinal had violations on another inspection July 29, 2011. One driver did not possess required medical records, and a required lamp was inoperable on one of the two vehicles that were inspected.
The Texas attorney general’s office and the Better Business Bureau said no complaints had been filed against Cardinal.
Cardinal organized in 2007 but had filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection by late 2008. The bankruptcy was discharged in March 2009. The company also had a $59,463 IRS tax lien filed against it in Tarrant County in December.
Robert Hurtado, a special agent with the U.S. Department of Transportation, said the owner has been cooperative, but there’s been nothing confirmed about the cause of the crash.
Hurtado said agents will talk with the owners and review company records including paperwork such as maintenance records and logbooks and driver information.
Staff writers Eric Aasen, Mia Castillo, Christina Rosales, Eleanor Sadler, Avi Selk, Eden Stiffman and Robert Wilonsky contributed to this report.
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