An usually joyous and fun-filled day turned sour when two buses carrying breast cancer research fund-raisers collided at a one-lane bridge on Walker Road in Great Falls on Saturday afternoon.
The accident occurred near Walker Mill Road at about noon on Saturday as a group of about 100 breast cancer survivors and their supporters were returning from the Race for the Cure in Washington, D.C.
They were riding on two buses chartered by Patti Brownstein, a breast cancer survivor who has organized groups from Great Falls to participate in the race.
"This accident will not deter us, and this event will be held again next year. If we can survive breast cancer, we can survive a bus crash," said Brownstein.
According to Fairfax County Police, a bus driven by James Darden, 53, of Warrenton, yielded to another car at the one lane bridge. The second bus, driven by Yvonne Darden, 51, of the same address, was unable to stop and crashed into the rear of the first bus.
Police said the second bus had faulty brakes. Yvonne Darden was charged with having defective equipment.
"The second bus just plowed into the first one," said Stacy Brownstein, who coordinates the Great Falls teams' entry in The Race for the Cure with her mother, Patti.
The driver of the second bus was injured along with 19 other passengers. They were taken to three local hospitals, police said.
"It was really devastating and traumatic," said Patti Brownstein, "the windshield shattered and glass went through into the driver's eyes." Several passengers also sought medical treatment from their personal physicians on Monday, Brownstein said.
The buses were chartered from Martz-Franklin Motor coaches in Tuxedo, Md.
"We are investigating all forms of what may have happened," said Martz-Franklin general manager Barry Shapiro.
THE GROUP on the buses, known as Team Y5K, was first organized in 1999 by Patti Brownstein. She and other survivors in the race wore pink t-shirts, to symbolize their struggle against breast cancer. Washington's Race for the Cure is the largest such fund-raiser in the country.
Since Patti Brownstein first organized Team Y5K, it has grown from 30 to 327 members. This year, they raised more than $7,000 for breast cancer research.
The buses were returning to the Village Center in Great Falls for a party following the race. The party, which raises money from a raffle and silent auction of items donated bmerchants, will be rescheduled, Brownstein said.
A yield sign was added several years ago at the one-lane bridge on Walker Road where the accident took place.
Eleanor Anderson, president of the Great Falls Citizens Association, said the group had asked the Virginia Department of Transportation to look at safety issues surrounding the bridge, she recalled Tuesday. It is safe for two cars to pass, she said, but too narrow for a car and truck to pass at the same time.
After VDOT added the yield sign, traffic now must take turns to cross the bridge.
THE GFCA remains opposed to widening the bridge to permit two-way traffic, Anderson said.
“If you widen [the bridge] on Walker Road, people would come down that hill and do 50 or 60 miles an hour to get from Route 7 to Georgetown Pike,” she said.
“The Great Falls Citizens Association would object. We would go to Stu [Mendelsohn, Dranesville District Supervisor] and scream.”
The bus accident, Anderson said, “could happen anywhere, anytime.
That’s because [police said] the brakes failed,” she said.