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Old 08-02-2005, 10:06 AM   #1
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RAGBRAI: Fiery crash of runaway bus injures two people

Fiery crash of runaway bus injures two people

July 31, 2005

Guttenberg, Ia. - One woman was seriously injured and a man was hurt after a RAGBRAI team support bus lost control and sped wildly down a hill into Guttenberg. The bus flew over a curb, landed on its side and burst into flames.

Witnesses said the pair were traveling down the hill on Clayton County Road C7X near the T-intersection with U.S. Highway 52 when the Team Wheel bus lost control of its brakes about 9 a.m. Saturday.

"There's not a skid mark to be found," said David Connell , who owns the veterinary clinic on the other side of the highway. "He had no brakes. The fire department got the fire out right away, but it was mayhem. Absolute mayhem," Connell said.

The bus driver, Ronald Laing, 40, of Des Moines was treated for his injuries at Guttenberg Municipal Hospital and released . Passenger Brandi Helmkamp, 30, of Fort Dodge, who was ejected through the windshield, was flown to University Hospitals in Iowa City, where she was in serious condition, according to the Clayton County Sheriff's Office.

Laing told officials that he tried the brakes and found they didn't work. The emergency brake also did not work, so he steered the cherry red bus, which was traveling east , into the lane of oncoming westbound traffic because there were cars and buses stopped at the intersection in front of him.

The bus jumped the curb at the other side of the intersection, causing it to fly over the grass. It continued over a set of railroad tracks, pushing them out of place, before going about 15 feet down into a grassy ditch.

Several bystanders helped Helmkamp and freed Laing from the bus. Laing, although bloodied, was able to walk around.

Another support vehicle driver, Jim Cherveny of Clinton , said he was six vehicles back when the accident happened.

"When I turned the corner, I could see the frame of the bus," he said. The bus burst into flames when the gas tank exploded in the crash.

"It was smoking as high as the trees across the street," Cherveny said. "They would have wiped out 20 bikers going through a highway like that."

RAGBRAI Director T.J. Juskiewicz said: "Obviously, it's an unfortunate incident to have. We're grateful the driver was alert. He should be commended.

"Of course, we're always worried. Any kind of downhill, any kind of uphill."

The RAGBRAI committee had members standing at the top of the biker hill warning people about the incline they faced going into Guttenberg.

"(But) vehicle malfunction, that's difficult to plan for," Juskiewicz said.

Early Saturday afternoon, crews from the Iowa, Chicago and Eastern Railroad were at the crash site moving the rails back into place.

Bags and a cooler were still strewn on the grass where the bus landed. The vehicle was moved into town on a flatbed truck.

Along with missing the cars traveling on the county road and highway, the bus missed a freight train traveling north on the tracks.

"It missed the train by no more than five minutes," Connell said. Connell said he had gone inside just minutes before the crash, so "my first thought was a train had derailed."

"It's a very nasty hill. Steep and long," he said. "It's lucky it wasn't any worse than it was. It could have been a disaster."
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Old 08-02-2005, 10:20 AM   #2
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Oh, oh...I see inspections in the future for RAGBRAI busses.
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Old 08-02-2005, 11:24 AM   #3
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Man, that's not good publicity. I hope the passenger gets better. The bus pushed apart railroad tracks, huh? Wow.
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Old 08-02-2005, 12:58 PM   #4
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Yeah, to push those Ties outa the way that thing mutsta been "Rollin Thunder" by the time it got there. I'm sure at one point or another we have all dreamed of what would happen and how we would react if our brakes failed.
I commend that driver for keeping a clear head when all Hell was breaking loose. Instead of panicking (well he probably was) he kept his cool, Held on to that Wheel and managed to miss cars, people, whatever. In the Heat of the moment, when accidents happnen lots of people just don't react, or react the wrong way, that's when the real Sh1t starts hitting the fan.
My heart goes out to Mr. Ronald Laing, for keeping his cool, good drivin' "Tex"
Hang in there Brandi.
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Old 08-02-2005, 01:31 PM   #5
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the article didn't say, but i would immagine he did not have air brakes.

I wish my new bus had air......
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Old 09-20-2011, 11:01 AM   #6
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Re: RAGBRAI: Fiery crash of runaway bus injures two people

Originally Posted by jaredhall

Sorry for posting in this old thread ...
No apologies necessary, Jared. The thread is "old" but bus safety is never outdated.

Considering that school buses - and the drivetrains that propel them for tens of thousands of miles without fail - are engineering marvels, it pisses me off that designers haven't been able to make tougher fuel systems commonplace. That seems easy to me but I'm not an engineer.

That being said, it's impossible to prevent all crash fires and such may have been the case here. A skoolie isn't exactly a '71 Pinto.

Brandi H. was damn lucky to have survived being hurled out of a crashing vehicle at such great velocity. That seems to happen rarely. And I wonder if either of them would have survived if they had been in a stix-'n-staples. It would have disintegrated and pelted the folks with pieces of RV.
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