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Uninjured Fayetteville Students Return to N.C. After Florida Bus Crash

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ST.MARY'S, GA. — Two people are in critical condition and 22 others were injured after a chartered bus carrying band students from a Fayetteville high school crashed Friday morning near the Georgia/Florida border.

Students fromMassey Hill Classical High Schoolwere on the bus bound for Orlando, Fla. when it crashed on Interstate 95 south around 6:30 a.m. Forty-six people were on board the bus.

The students were to participate theAll American Music Festival of Orlando, an international band and choral competition. A second bus full of students was not involved. Teachers and parents were following behind the buses in several cars. The groups left Fayetteville just after midnight. -->

The driver of the crashed bus, Darol Wayne Britt, 38, of Fayetteville, told officials that he swerved to avoid a car that cut him off, hit the guard rail and flipped over. However, some who were on the bus say it appears the driver may have dozed off. Injuries:At one point, 22 people were taken to two area hospitals. All of the injured were on the bus that crashed. As of 9 a.m. Saturday, their conditions are as follows:
  • Seven people with serious injuries were taken toShands-Jacksonville Medical Center. Four of the seven were airlifted to the hospital. Two students are in critical condition, Officials say one of those students may have to lose an ear while the other student will need major facial surgery. The other five people are in stable to good condition. Sixteen people, including an assistant principal, were taken to Camden Medical Center, in St. Mary's, Ga. Four students underwent surgery for broken bones. Other passengers suffered cuts, bruises and injuries from broken glass. Most have been treated and released.A spokesperson for Shands says that the most severe injuries were to those near the bus windows that were knocked out.
  • Band director Steve West was at Shands calling the parents of the injured students.

    "I haven't cried in 20 years," West said about watching a critically injured teen being loaded onto an air ambulance.

    Adams addressed students at the school, and some have opted to go home for the day.

    Students who were not injured are waiting and resting at a Camden County church. They were first taken to a 911 staging area where they were able to phone their families. The Camden County Sheriff's Office has provided food and counseling. Parents of students on the trip can call912-510-5121for more information. Other Students Return To Fayetteville

    Students who were able to make the trip back to Fayetteville returned early Saturday morning.

    Parents and teachers welcomed the students back home. For many students, it was difficult for them to get back on a bus for the ride home.

    "It was somewhat scary, especially after the first hour or so, because of everyone was thinking about the bus flipping over," says student Hannah Bruhn. Questions Raised About the Driver, CompanyAccording to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, Britt had no authority to operate a motor carrier company. He owns and drives for Royal Heritage tours, which has not had insurance since Feb. 1999.

    AMA Unlimited, which was operating the other bus, had its insurance canceled in July 1997. Westport insurance denied AMA's request for coverage Friday. No one from either company would comment.

    According to federal records, AMA has asatisfactory safety ratingand no previous accidents.

    Cumberland County Schools are one of only four school systems in the state to maintain a systemwide-approved charter bus list. A DMV taskforce is in the process of creating a checklist for schools to help them choose charters and to know the issues.

    Charter buses usually have a lower safety standard than do public school buses. They may have seatbelts, but the bus' ability to withstand rollovers and certain kind of crashes may be lower than that required of school buses.

    Cumberland County school policy requires charter buses be chosen from a list of "approved" carriers and to have $5 million in liability coverage, which Britt did not have.

    The school system spokesman says its own liability insurance kicks in when a carrier's insurance is inadequate. Students Offered Counseling As Parents Go To Florida To Be With ChildrenSome parents caravaned to Florida to be with their injured children. Two parents of Massey Hill students and a local businessperson have private planes. They flew parents of the injured children down to Florida.

    Uninjured students were driven back to Fayetteville.

    Meanwhile, students at Massey Hill waited to hear about their friends' conditions in the hours after the accident. Students were offered counseling Friday. The school is small, with only 300 students. One-third of them were on the field trip.School Leaders Have List of Approved Charter Bus Carriers-->

    Stay with WRAL-TV and WRAL OnLine for the latest updates on this story. From staff and wire reportsand Brian Shrader

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    Michelle Singer, Web Editor

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