Local News

Driver charged in fatal charter bus crash in Virginia

Posted April 5, 2013 9:49 a.m. EDT
Updated April 5, 2013 7:02 p.m. EDT

— A charter bus traveling from Chapel Hill to Hampton, Va., crashed early Friday in southeastern Virginia, killing a Chapel Hill man, authorities said.

The driver of the Horizon Coach Lines bus, Larry Brocks, 62, of Raleigh, has been charged with reckless driving, the Virginia State Police said. More charges are possible, they said.

The crash happened shortly after 7 a.m. when the bus ran off the right side of U.S. Highway 58 and overturned in a ditch near Capron, Va. No other vehicles were involved.

The bus was on its way to Hampton University's Open House Day, authorities said.

Eight people were aboard at the time of the crash, and two were thrown from the bus, authorities said. Doval Emmanuel Watson, 58, of Chapel Hill, died from injuries suffered in the wreck.

Watson, a Hampton alumnus and a past president of the Durham-Chapel Hill chapter of the school's alumni association, was a chaperon on the annual trip.

"I think 'D' – it’s what I called him – lived his life to the fullest, whether it was for his family, for his community for his university," said Frederick Davis II, a Durham resident and Hampton alumnus. "He was definitely a vibrant energy type of guy."

Davis said he had planned to go on the bus trip with Watson but pulled out at the last minute because of a business conflict.

"That could’ve been me, and someone could’ve been interviewing someone asking, 'What do you know about Fredrick Davis?'" he said. "Some might say it‘s a blessing (that I didn't go). I say it’s an act of God."

Watson's wife, Theresa, also was a chaperon on the trip. She was flown to Norfolk General Hospital for treatment of what police described as major injuries.

"They were two peas in a pod – wherever D was, she was there," Davis said. "She loved students and loved higher education."

The other six people aboard the bus, students ages 13 to 17, were uninjured, police said.

Two of the students are from the Chapel Hill area – one attends East Chapel Hill High School and another is from Carrboro High School – while the others are from Henderson.

Jackie Richardson, whose daughter was on the bus, said she passed the overturned bus on her way to pick the teen up from Southampton Memorial Hospital, in Franklin, Va.

"Actually seeing the accident, I became so emotional because I know it could have been so much worse," Richardson said.

Virginia State Police Sgt. Allen Williams said there was no indication that alcohol or speed were factors in the crash, and there were no mechanical problems with the bus.

"It had just finished raining," Williams said. "Apparently, his right-side tire veered off the road slightly, and he was not able to regain control off the bus. The bus is so heavy and so tall that the bus continued to veer down the slope embankment and continued down until it came to rest on its side."

According to parents, the students tried to dig around Theresa Watson to pull her out from under the bus, but her arm was stuck.

"They actually helped each other. They didn't panic," Richardson said.

Nearby residents called for help and took the shaken students into their homes, authorities said.

"I'm happy on one hand that my child was all right but sad on the other hand, knowing that one of the chaperon es was killed and that the other one is in serious condition," Richardson said.

Seattle-based Horizon has had three crashes in the past two years, and only one person was injured in those wrecks, according to U.S. Department of Transportation records. It has a satisfactory rating – the highest available – with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

"Horizon Coaches wishes to express its sorrow and sympathy to those impacted by this accident," the company said in a statement. "The company will do everything it can to help determine the cause of the accident."

Eastbound lanes of U.S. 58 were closed as Virginia State Police investigated the crash and removed the wrecked bus.