Six people were killed and 10 were injured Tuesday morning when a school bus veered into oncoming traffic and ripped through the side of a Maryland Transit Administration bus in Southwest Baltimore, police said.
The force of the collision in the 3800 block of Frederick Ave. in Irvington "shook the ground," said Matt Wagster, superintendent of the nearby Loudon Park Cemetery.
The drivers of both buses and four passengers on the MTA bus died in the crash, officials said, and two more passengers were in critical condition Tuesday evening.
No students were on the school bus during the crash.
The school bus was headed east on Frederick Avenue before 7 a.m. when it rear-ended a gray Ford Mustang at Monastery Avenue and struck a concrete pillar at the entrance to the cemetery, police said.
The bus then continued another block down the road before smashing through the driver's side front of the MTA bus, police said.
"It literally looks like a bomb exploded in the bus," police spokesman T.J. Smith said. "It's catastrophic damage."
Investigators don't know what caused the school bus driver to lose control of his vehicle, Smith said. He said they want to interview a school bus aide who suffered minor injuries to learn what happened just before the crash.
The driver of the MTA bus was Ebonee Baker, family members said. Police said she was 33.
Police did not release the names of the people who died. Smith said the school bus driver was a 67-year-old man. The four passengers who died were a 51-year-old man, 51-year-old woman, a 46-year-old woman and a man who was about 32.
Smith said he planned to release their names Wednesday.
The school bus aide, eight passengers on the MTA bus and the driver of the Mustang were injured, Smith said. A 29-year-old woman and a 40-year-old man were in critical condition Tuesday evening. The other injuries were minor, Smith said.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake offered her condolences to the victims and their families, and praised the first responders.
"Please continue to pray for the many lives impacted by today's events," she said in a statement.
Five of the injured victims were taken to the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center. One was in critical condition, one was in serious condition, two were in fair condition and one was discharged, University of Maryland Medical System spokesman Michael Schwartzberg said.
Officials did not say where the other injured victims were taken. A spokeswoman for Saint Agnes Healthcare said the hospital took two patients, but could not share information about their conditions. A spokeswoman for Sinai Hospital said one patient was taken there.
Baltimore police and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the crash. NTSB investigator Jennifer Morrison said the federal agency planned to spend a week investigating the scene.
Police shut down Frederick Avenue for nearly 12 hours after the crash. Police tweeted shortly after 6:30 p.m. that it had reopened.
Smith said he didn't know whether speed was a factor. He said police found no indication that the school bus had decelerated before the crash.
"There aren't any skid marks, so something catastrophic took place," he said.
Responders were able to recover a camera from the school bus, but it's not yet clear whether any video can be recovered from the device, Smith said.
Keith Scroggins, chief operating officer of Baltimore City Public Schools, said the school bus driver worked for AAAfordable Transportation, a contractor for the district. He was on his way to pick up his first student en route to Dallas F. Nicholas Sr. Elementary School in Barclay.
Starting Wednesday, those students will be transported by a district-owned bus, school officials said.
AAAfordable is one of seven bus companies under contract with the school system. The Baltimore-based company provides curb-to-curb services for students with special needs and homeless students.
AAAfordable owner Mark Williams said the driver in the crash was one of a "handful" who are contracted by city schools. The driver had a good driving record, he said.
Williams declined to answer further questions. He said the company and its drivers were grieving.
The two buses remained jammed into each other hours later. The wrecked Mustang also remained at the scene. A front wheel was off its axle and the back half of the car was crushed.
The MTA bus drives a route that connects Catonsville in Western Baltimore County through downtown Baltimore and Fells Point to Turner Station in Dundalk in Eastern Baltimore County.
"MTA is really a family and our family is wounded today," MTA spokesman Paul Shepard said. "It's just something that you could never plan for. We are really wounded but we're going to come out of this stronger."
The MTA driver was a longtime member of Greater Gethsemane Missionary Baptist Church, said Rev. Donald Wright, the executive pastor of the E. Preston Street congregation. Wright said she left behind a husband and four children, whom she often brought to church where they were active in the choir and other church activities.
Wright called Baker friendly and generous, saying that at one Christmas gift swap, she bought the most expensive present. She loved her job at the MTA, he said. He described her as smart, funny and vibrant.
"When she came into the room she let you know she was there," he said. "She was going to laugh, she was going to joke, she was going to be loud sometimes, but her presence was so radiant. She was just a joy and a pleasure to be around."
Police Commissioner Kevin Davis described the accident scene as "complicated." He said it was "going to take a lot of resources to get to the bottom of what happened."
"It's important to keep the families in mind and the folks who lost their lives," Davis said.
Baltimore Fire Chief Niles Ford said the scene was unlike anything his first responders had ever seen.
"There are still portions of the bus that our people have not been able to fully access," he said Tuesday morning.
Smith said the school bus driver and the aide were the only two people on the school bus at the time of the crash. Thirteen people are believed to have been on the MTA bus, he said.
Gov. Larry Hogan pledged to support Baltimore police in the investigation.
"The First Lady and I are deeply saddened to hear of the horrific crash this morning in Southwest Baltimore involving a school bus and an MTA commuter bus," Hogan said in a statement. "Our deepest condolences go out to the victims and their families in the wake of this tragedy. We will continue to pray for those who were injured, as well as the first responders who worked swiftly and continue to care for the injured.
"Our administration gives our full support to the Baltimore City Police Department as they investigate, and we are prepared to offer any state assistance necessary."
City Councilwoman Helen Holton, who represents the area, said she was waiting for more information.
"I'm just devastated — period," the longtime councilwoman said. "The fact that a school bus and MTA bus were involved, it is just tragic, horrific.