When Barry Meuse heard a crashing sound Sunday morning, he knew exactly what it was. Living next to the George Washington Parkway, it’s a sound that he hears all too often — that of a vehicle hitting the stone bridge near Alexandria Avenue.
This time, it was an Eyre Bus filled with students on their way to Mount Vernon Estates. Two buses were traveling side by side, when the one in the right lane struck the bridge, shearing off a good portion of the roof.
A report released by the United States Park Police said that 28 passengers were on the bus and many sustained minor injuries from flying debris. Ten teenagers were transported to local hospitals with minor non-life threatening injuries, most of which were to the head, neck or back. The passengers were students from St. Sebastian’s School in Needham, Mass.
“Every time we hear it we know what it is. This time, we heard it and went out to see what happened,” Meuse said. “I saw two buses and kids on cell phones. When I looked at the roof [of the bus], I thought there’d be some serious head injuries. It’s amazing that nobody was killed.”
Meuse said that trucks hit the stone about eight to 12 times a year. Calls to the record department of the United States Park Police were not returned to verify the dates and severity of those crashes. None of the truck crashes have been fatal; the truck cab is lower than the box, which is what makes contact with the bridge. The last bus crash, which occurred in 1987, killed an elderly woman, and injured dozens of others. After that crash, clearance signs were posted in each lane of the parkway to indicate the difference in height for the two lanes—13 feet 4 inches for the center lane and only 10 feet 2 inches for the right lane. The Eyre bus on which the students were traveling was traveling in the right lane, and had a height of 12 feet 4 inches.
Lt. Warren Boyer, U.S. Park Police field commander, said that they took most of the students to the hospital for precautionary measures. The United States Park Police is investigating the accident and NSTB will be inspecting the bus at a later date. Federal highways officials will inspect the bridge for any damage.
“It’s a powerfully built bridge,” Meuse said.
Marilyn Geiger drove past the scene shortly after it happened. “We had just pulled out of Waynewood and could see that something was happening,” Geiger said. “Everybody was on their cell phone and the kids were climbing out the window.”
Geiger was surprised at how far the bus had gone before it stopped. “Not only did it go through the bridge, but it went at least a hundred yards after that,” she said.
Meuse said that the scene was very orderly and that the Fairfax County emergency response was great.
“They assessed the situation quickly and took students to the hospital. The adults attended to the kids who were well-behaved and came out [of the bus] and sat down on the grass,” Meuse said.
He was a little concerned because it seemed like it took a long time to get the last people out of the bus, but his wife, who is a nurse, felt that they must be OK if they weren’t hurrying. Meuse is a resident of the Wellington neighborhood and thought that there had been some effort on the part of the civic association to remove buses from the parkway after the last bus accident. Leslie Paige, who is the current president, was not aware of any such action.