A prison bus skidded off an icy Interstate 20 overpass Wednesday morning, slid down an embankment and hit a car in a passing freight train, killing eight inmates and two corrections officers, including the bus driver, authorities said.
Four prisoners and one corrections officer were injured, prison officials said.
The prisoners were handcuffed together in pairs, officials said. They did not have seat belts, and some were thrown from the bus after it struck the train about 7:30 a.m., a Texas Department of Public Safety spokeswoman said.
“It’s as bad as you can imagine,” Kavin Tinney, an Odessa Fire and Rescue battalion chief, told the Odessa American. “In 32 years, it’s as bad as anything I’ve seen.”
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An earlier wreck on the overpass, which was slick with ice, may have contributed to the loss of control by the westbound bus, Ector County Sheriff Mark Donaldson said. An eastbound truck also crashed just after the bus went off the overpass. No information was available about the other wrecks.
A spokeswoman for Medical Center Hospital in Odessa said four of the injured were in critical condition and one was in serious condition.
Jason Clark, a Department of Criminal Justice spokesman, said the bus was new and went into service this past summer. It was taking the inmates from a prison system transfer unit in Abilene to a state jail in El Paso, about 250 miles west of the overpass.
The prisoners were not in leg restraints, said Jason Heaton, agency director for the region. Only the driver’s seat had a seat belt, he said. Like many buses, the vehicle had no safety belts on the bench-type seats.
The bus left the road in Penwell, just west of Odessa.
A DPS trooper who was investigating the earlier crash witnessed the bus wreck, the American reported.
The bus hit at least one guardrail before entering the median and driving off an embankment between two overpasses.
“He came down the embankment and literally just flew,” trooper Elena Viramontes, a DPS spokeswoman, said, noting that no skid marks or pieces of tire were left on the embankment.
Donaldson said the train dragged the bus before stopping.
The bus came to rest on its side, next to the railroad tracks, crumpled with heavy damage to its front and undercarriage. The top of the bus was caved inward.
The Union Pacific freight train with four locomotives and 58 cars came to a stop. None of the cars derailed, but two containers at the rear were damaged, said Mark Davis, a railroad spokesman.
One of the train cars, labeled UPS, came to rest east of the crash in pieces. Parcels including home decor and shoes littered the ground among hundreds of packages strewn along the tracks.
No Union Pacific employees were injured.
The train, which was traveling from the Los Angeles area to Marion, Ark., remained stopped for hours, Davis said.
“We’ll send crews to inspect the train, inspect the track,” he said.
The National Transportation Safety Board said it was sending its own team of inspectors.
In June, an inmate was killed and several other people were injured when a prison van collided with a car in Central Texas.