Six die in charter bus crash in Arkansas -police

By Steve Barnes

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (Reuters) - Six people died early on Friday morning when a charter bus veered off an interstate highway in Arkansas and crashed into a concrete barrier and an overpass, according to state police.

Three of the people who died were ejected, one was partially ejected and two were inside the bus, Arkansas State Police Colonel Bill Bryant told reporters on Friday.

Six other people suffered minor injuries in the crash at about 1 a.m. along Interstate 40 in North Little Rock, state police said. Those hurt were taken by ambulance to local hospitals for treatment and released, state police said.

There were 22 people on the bus, including the driver, Arkansas State Police Major Mike Foster said.

The bus left from Monroe, Michigan, and was en route to Laredo, Texas, Foster said.

Three on the bus, including the driver, Roberto Vasquez, 28, of Monroe, Michigan, were employees of Vasquez Citrus & Hauling in Lake Placid, Florida, state police said. The others were passengers, workers that the company was transporting, Foster said.

Other media have reported the passengers were migrant workers. Foster said the driver, who was among those hurt, holds a Michigan license and speaks English. Foster could not say the nationalities of the passengers.

The National Transportation Safety Board is sending three investigators to Arkansas to study the crash, focusing on driver fatigue and how the occupants of the bus were protected, spokesman Eric Weiss said.

Foster said there was no indication that drugs or alcohol were factors in the crash.

No other vehicle was involved, police said. Police said conditions included light rain and a wet road.

American Red Cross spokeswoman Brigette Williams said that at least eight passengers were given blankets, coffee, mental health and emotional support, and were taken to a local hotel where they are resting.

Photos of the bus after the crash showed a crumpled roof. The name "Continental" was on the side of the vehicle.

Jeff Lawson, who identified himself as owner of Detroit-based Continental Charters, said his company sold the bus, a T2140 Van Hool 1997 model, on Saturday to the citrus and hauling company for $8,000. He said the buyer was supposed to remove the Continental lettering from the bus before operating it.

Lawson declined to comment further but CBS News reported that he said the buyer told him he needed a second bus to haul people from Detroit to Texas and Florida.

The bus is owned by the citrus and hauling company and can carry up to 47 passengers, state police said.

Reuters called the company, and a woman hung up the phone.

Police said the investigation is active and that witnesses are still being interviewed. Police said they are working with state and local law enforcement agencies, as well as federal authorities and the Mexican consulate to notify relatives who may be located outside the United States.

(Reporting by Steve Barnes in Little Rock, Ark., Ben Klayman in Detroit and Suzannah Gonzales in Chicago; Writing by Suzannah Gonzales; Editing by Phil Berlowitz and Lisa Von Ahn)

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