The owner of the party bus that crashed last month in York County, killing three people, was among those on board. She said she lost friends and family in the crash.
Towanda Futrell, owner of Futrell’s Party Adventures, LLC, was among the 23 passengers on the bus when it collided with a tractor trailer on Interstate 64 and crashed into a guardrail. Speaking out for the first time since the Dec. 16 accident, Futrell described the physical and mental fallout and the loss to her family.
“The trauma is real,” said Futrell, who is recovering from a broken right ankle, a sprained left ankle, and injuries to her face and jaw from the crash. “But we keep going, we keep each other going,” she said, indicating family members who survived.
Futrell, 41, spoke from her Norfolk home, surrounded by daughters Tanija Futrell and Tyquira Rogers; nephew Darrell Rogers; and the father of her grandson, Antonio Hardee. All five were on the bus, and recounted harrowing details from the crash and its aftermath.
The group traveled to Richmond that night to watch X’Zavier Raquan Evans perform at a concert. The celebration was cut painfully short on the way back. Evans, 25, was the father of Futrell’s 7-year-old grandson. He died at the scene, along with passengers Montia Bouie, 19, of Chesapeake and Johntae Kaalib Russell, 21, of Norfolk.
Tanija Futrell performed that night with Evans. She is recovering from injuries to her back and said she can’t sleep at night.
“Imagine going to perform, and coming back to a tragedy,” she said.
After the tractor trailer struck the bus, it struck a guardrail and lost its entire cab shell. All 23 passengers were ejected. The bench seating didn’t have seatbelts.
Towanda Futrell described Evans as “like a son.” She said the last month of Evans’ life was the happiest she’d ever seen him. He’d been at her house every day, spending time with his son. He was excited about his music career. His son and his music were the two most important things to him, Futrell said.
Russell was Evans’ brother. Futrell knew him as long as she knew Evans and said he used to call her “Aunt Tutu.” Bouie was a friend of Futrell’s daughter Tanija. Futrell said the two girls grew up together and remained in contact throughout the years.
“We miss them dearly,” Futrell said. The group on the bus was a close-knit family, she said. “But God needed them more.”
Police are still working to determine who was at fault. Both drivers are being investigated for felony-class reckless driving, though no one had been charged as of Friday. A police affidavit stated the tractor trailer struck the bus from behind at full speed, causing the bus to spin 180 degrees and lock up with the tractor trailer.
The crash was sudden and confusing for those onboard.
“We were hit from the back,” Rogers said.
“The bus was hit from the side,” Hardee said in an overlapping voice.
The group of five relatives often talked over each other as they recalled snippets of what they experienced. One person said it happened so quickly; another agreed, saying it felt like it came out of nowhere. They weren’t watching the windows; they were having a good time.
Then, “We were flying, seeing the night sky,” Tanija Futrell said.
Towanda Futrell started Futrell’s Party Adventures, LLC, an event and party planning venture, in 2020. Her business Facebook page includes photos of bright children’s birthday parties held over the past two years, featuring costume characters, cotton candy and bounce houses.
Her TikTok account shows her glossy black party bus with tinted windows, neon green undercarriage lights, and bold lettering on the side proclaiming “Futrell’s Party Bus.” Videos show bench seating facing away from the windows and an open floor with poles in the center — a dancehall on wheels.
Futrell is proud of the business she created. “I loved it,” she said. “I would do it again if I could,” she said of her desire to host parties and events for her friends and community. But since the crash, she’s stopped hosting events, instead focusing on healing from physical and mental wounds.
She plans to eventually resume her business when she recovers. She doesn’t have any immediate plans to replace the bus, though she said it brought in a lot of income.
The party bus was traveling well under the speed limit when it was hit. The bus driver, Antonio L. Wiggins, told police the bus couldn’t exceed 40 mph due to modifications and weight added to the bus.
Futrell disputes that characterization, and said she didn’t know why the driver would say that.
Virginia State Police First Sgt. Eugene R. Desaulniers said the investigation was ongoing and declined to comment on modifications added to the bus or the 40 mph top speed.
Wiggins told police he saw the tractor trailer approaching in his driver side mirror and was trying to change lanes when the bus was hit from the back. The tractor trailer driver, Daniel L. Cramer, told police he didn’t see tail lights on the party bus.
There is evidence Wiggins was driving on a suspended license, and evidence that Cramer falsified his log books and was driving well outside of work time allowed. Although there was alcohol on the party bus, police said neither driver was under the influence.
Asked whether the bus was safe to operate, Futrell said she took owning a business seriously.
“It was family on the bus,” Futrell said. “I wouldn’t put them on it if I didn’t think it was safe.”
Cianna Morales, 757-957-1304, firstname.lastname@example.org