A Greyhound bus drove off an interstate highway in southwest Ohio early Saturday, struck a tree and a fence and flipped on its side before sliding to a stop in a cornfield, injuring at least 35 people.
None of the injuries was considered life-threatening, though several people were trapped and had to be extricated by firefighters and paramedics, the State Highway Patrol said in a statement.
There was no immediate word on the cause of the crash, but passenger Christopher Lake, of Michigan, told WCPO-TV in Cincinnati that he saw the driver slumped over. Lake said he heard a woman scream at the driver "Wake up! Wake up!" but that he thinks the man might have had a medical problem. Another passenger interviewed by WHIO-TV said that the driver fell asleep.
The bus drove off the right side of northbound Interstate 75 about 25 miles north of Cincinnati at about 3:50 a.m., the patrol said. Lake told WCPO-TV that the bus rolled over twice after hitting the tree.
Authorities said that the crash remained under investigation.
Jeff Galloway, director of the Butler County Emergency Management Agency, said 35 people were taken to hospitals, six by helicopters and 29 by ambulance. The injuries ranged from minor to severe, officials said.
The bus, which left Cincinnati bound for Detroit, was carrying 51 passengers and the driver. Those passengers who were not injured and those who were treated and released from hospitals were transported back to Cincinnati, but none of them were at the bus station later Saturday morning.
Lake, who was not injured, told WCPO he saw some children on the bus and thought some passengers had broken arms and legs
He said that the bus driver seemed fine when he boarded the bus.
The driver, who has been with the company for almost 15 years, had been on duty for an hour and was fully rested, Kim Plaskett, a spokeswoman for Dallas-based Greyhound Lines Inc., told the Associated Press.
The driver was among the injured, but she said she could not release the person's name or medical condition due to medical privacy laws.
Plaskett said she couldn't discuss any details of the crash or the possible cause. The company was cooperating with investigators and will talk to the driver to try to determine what happened, Plaskett said.
The bus just had its regular major annual inspection 14 days ago, Plaskett said. She said drivers also do pre-trip inspections to make sure buses are fit for travel.
Greyhound sent a crisis-response team to the site to help the customers and authorities as soon as the company was notified of the crash, she said.
A telephone hotline was set up for friends and family members seeking information about the passengers on the bus. The phone number is 800-972-4583.
The skies were clear in the region early Saturday morning, according to the National Weather Service.
Last year, the Department of Transportation cracked shut down 26 intercity bus operators, declaring them "imminent hazards to public safety." It was the single largest safety crackdown in the history of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), the branch of the DOT established in 2000 to help curb fatalities and injuries resulting from bus and truck crashes, reported The Christian Science Monitor.
The FMCSA began investigating the carriers operating along I-95 after a series of deadly bus crashes in spring 2011. Greyhound was not one of the carriers cited in last year's safety crackdown.
Motorcoach travel is considered a safe mode of highway travel, with 750 million passenger trips per year, the DOT reports. Motorcoach company inspections have more than doubled from 2005 to 2011. Even so, motorcoach crashes have resulted in an average of 19 occupant fatalities per year over the past 10 years. That does not include fatalities among pedestrians, drivers, and passengers of other vehicles involved in those crashes.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.