Driver in deadly bus wreck suffered ruptured aneurysm

MINNEAPOLIS, MN Driver Ed Erickson suffered the aneurysm in his chest and lost consciousness shortly before the bus swerved off a clear, dry freeway Wednesday and rolled into a ditch, said Randy Lavoie, a spokesman for Strain Bus Line, which runs the bus trips to an Iowa casino. Erickson is among 14 people who were hospitalized after the crash.

Erickson, 52, of Elgin, is "quite shaken" and "his first concern was the passengers," Lavoie told the Post-Bulletin of Rochester on Wednesday night.

The bus company's owner, Dalmer Strain, told KSTP-TV that a passenger said Erickson's body shook and he slumped over the wheel.

"Ed didn't remember a thing until they cut him out of the seat belt," Strain told the station. "This was an aneurysm that came out of the clear blue. And he had no symptoms, no indications."

Bold Lines Inc., which does business under the Strain name, is talking to insurance adjustors and the Minnesota Department of Transportation, office manager Steve Burt told The Associated Press on Thursday. "As of right now we are still gathering the facts ourselves," Burt said.

Minnesota State Patrol spokesman Capt. Matt Langer told the AP that it's "just too early" in the investigation to say what caused the crash.

The Post-Bulletin, citing death notices it received Thursday, identified the two people killed in the crash as Pamela S. Holmquist, 56, of Kasson, and Rhonda R. Hill, 52, of Plainview.

The State Patrol won't confirm the names but plans to release its own list of victims later Thursday. Earlier, Langer had described the injuries as ranging from minor to critical.

Fourteen people had been hospitalized Wednesday night in Austin, Albert Lea and Rochester. Hospital officials were not releasing information about those patients Thursday.

The bus was traveling east on Interstate 90 just west of Austin on Wednesday afternoon, carrying a group of mostly senior citizens on their way home from a day trip to an Iowa casino. It crossed the median into the westbound lanes, flipped and ended up on its side in the ditch north of the freeway.

Passenger Ardell Swenson, 71, of Austin, said she was just putting her head back to rest when the bus crashed.

"When I got myself organized there was all kinds of red and white and blue lights flashing," Swenson said. "There was glass all over."

Langer said the bus had no seat belts, and when it overturned, some passengers were trapped underneath. Rescue crews were forced to pull off the bus's windshield because the 47-passenger coach had settled on its right side, blocking the door.

Tammy Eggum of Hayward, who was driving in the other direction at the time of the crash, told the Austin Daily Herald that the bus briefly went airborne before landing on its side.

"It was like the movie `Speed,"' Eggum told the newspaper.

Bold Lines is a small operator with six drivers and four buses and has had no accidents in the past two years, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration Web site.

In 2002, Bold Lines paid $20,000 to settle an enforcement case over drug testing for drivers, according to the federal safety agency. It also paid $300 to settle a case over driver duty times and record-keeping.

The agency has advised roadside inspectors to inspect the company's vehicles because of safety concerns, according to the Web site. Its "Inspection Selection System" rated Strain at a 76, with any score between 75 and 100 meaning an inspection is warranted.

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