By JILL BLEED, Associated Press
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — One child was killed and at least 45 people were injured when a charter bus carrying youth football players from Tennessee rolled off an interstate and overturned before sunrise Monday in central Arkansas, authorities said.
Arkansas State Police said the bus crashed along Interstate 30 near Benton, about 25 miles (40 kilometers) southwest of Little Rock, while traveling to Memphis, Tennessee. Police said most of the injured were children who were taken to hospitals in Little Rock and Benton.
The elementary-school age players from Orange Mound Youth Association in southeast Memphis had played in a tournament in the Dallas area over the weekend, according to Memphis TV station WMC. Orange Mound is a historically black neighborhood that unites around its youth football teams, where kids train to be part of the highly competitive Melrose High School squad.
Damous Hailey was one of about a half-dozen adults on the bus. He told The Commercial Appeal newspaper that he was sitting directly behind the driver when the bus swerved then flipped “about 15 or 20 times,” before stopping at the foot of a hill.
“When the bus started flipping, the kids were hollering, and we were trying to calm them down,” he said in an interview from Saline Memorial Hospital, where he was taken to be treated for injuries to his right side and leg. “I was holding on, trying to make sure I didn’t get thrown out.”
Hailey said the bus was carrying players from about 10 Orange Mound Youth Association football teams who played in all-star squads that competed in Texas.
Sports teams and coaches believed affiliated with the organization have not returned phone calls and emails from The Associated Press Monday morning.
No information has been released about the severity of the injuries, and authorities haven’t talked about what caused the crash that happened under the cloak of darkness. Live video from the scene showed the heavily damaged bus on its side on an embankment near some dense woodland, just at the crook of a sharp bend in the road. The bus was hoisted upright and pulled from the scene late Monday morning.
Police said the bus driver was being questioned by troopers.
It is unclear if seat belts were provided for the bus passengers. Lawmakers in Tennessee tried but failed to introduce regulations in 2017 requiring seat belts in new school buses. The bus in Monday’s crash was a charter bus.
Arkansas Children’s Hospital in Little Rock said it received 24 patients following the morning crash. The hospital said all the patients were in stable condition, though no additional information about the injuries has been released. The hospital said it has set up a family center so parents can reunite with their children. No information about the status of injured passengers being treated at hospitals elsewhere has been released.
Orange Mound was created after the Civil War by and for African-Americans, and black-owned businesses flourished there until desegregation enabled residents to live elsewhere. Chronic disinvestment brought widespread crime and poverty.
A speeding bus filled with school children crashed in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in November 2016, leaving six students dead. Prosecutors said the driver was on the phone at the time of the crash. He was convicted in March this year on six counts of criminally negligent homicide, 11 counts of reckless aggravated assault and seven counts of assault.
Associated Press reporters Adrian Sainz in Memphis, Tennessee, and Rebecca Reynolds Yonker in Louisville, Kentucky, contributed to this report.
For the latest on this developing story: https://apnews.com/3a75c35f461b4c0e8387d71d78062282