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Baltimore bus crash passenger: 'I didn't see it coming'

Ordinarily, Michelle Kennedy wakes up at 4:30 a.m. to catch the Maryland Transit Administration bus to her housekeeping job. But Tuesday morning she overslept, and so took a different route: the No. 10 line through Southwest Baltimore.

She took her seat on the bus moments before a careening school bus slammed into it.

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The 32-year-old Westport woman lost consciousness. When she came to, she said, there was glass in her mouth, pain down her right side and two bodies lying on top of her.

"I kept yelling for help, for them to get me out," Kennedy said Wednesday. "I was scared."

Six people were killed and 10 injured when the school bus crashed into the MTA bus on Frederick Avenue in Irvington. One of the injured people remained in critical condition Wednesday.

There were no students on the school bus.

The crash shook Baltimore. A vigil for the victims Wednesday evening drew hundreds.

As police released the names Wednesday of five of the six people who were killed, they said it could take weeks to determine the cause of the crash.

Investigators from the Baltimore Police Department and the National Transportation Safety Board were examining the broken pieces of the two buses at an undisclosed location.

Investigators have interviewed some of the 10 people who were injured, police spokesman T.J. Smith said. He declined to discuss what they said.

Smith said detectives were "still verifying the viability" of any footage that can be pulled off a camera recovered from the school bus.

He said investigators have not determined how fast the buses were moving before the crash, but it's clear from the impact they were moving "at a pretty good rate of speed."

"If you saw that destruction, it certainly wasn't caused by a slow-moving vehicle," Smith said.

In other developments Wednesday, it was learned that the school bus company has been suspended from providing charter bus rides in Maryland since last year.

A spokeswoman for the state Public Service Commission said the suspension, for failing to report and pay revenue to the state, doesn't prevent AAAffordable Transportation LLC from contracting with Baltimore City Public Schools to transport students.

The driver of the school bus had convictions for assault, violating protective orders and vehicle registration violations, according to online court records.

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Judges in Howard County and Baltimore issued protective orders against driver Glenn R. Chappell in domestic-violence cases in 2011 and 2012. Chappell was found guilty of violating protective orders three times between 2012 and 2013, and pleaded guilty to second-degree assault in December 2012.

The Associated Press reported that Chappell lost a civil case over hitting a parked car in Baltimore in 2008. Nationwide Insurance said in its complaint that Chappell's vehicle "veered from the roadway" and struck the car, the AP reported. The company alleged that he was negligent for "failing to pay full time and attention to the roadway, operating at excessive speed, failing to maintain control of his vehicle, failing to avoid colliding with other vehicles."

Authorities released the names of five of the six crash victims. They withheld the name of a 46-year-old passenger on the MTA bus whose family had not yet been notified of her death.

The driver of the MTA bus, Ebonee Baker, 33, was a mother of four who had dreamed of becoming a bus driver since she was hired as a fare inspector in 2005.

Chappell, 67, encouraged neighborhood kids to stay in school and gave them money in the summer to buy snowballs.

Cherry Denise Yarborough, 51, of the Park Heights neighborhood of Baltimore worked at the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and was described by her mother as a devoted daughter.

Terrance Lee Casey, 52, of the Pleasant View Gardens neighborhood was remembered by his son as "strong, family-oriented, funny, hardworking, always in a good spirit."

Gerald Holloway, 51, of the Pen Lucy neighborhood worked as a maintenance employee at Forest Haven Nursing and Rehabilitation in Catonsville, where his boss said he was warm, kind and compassionate.

By Wednesday afternoon, a memorial had sprung up along the side of Frederick Avenue. Several whiteboards were attached to a fence with red Sharpies hanging from strings to allow mourners to leave their thoughts. People left dozens of flowers, stuffed animals and balloons.

As night fell, hundreds gathered at the makeshift memorial. Many were dressed in purple or carried purple and black balloons to honor Baker, a devoted Baltimore Ravens fan. Dozens of MTA employees showed up in their uniforms.

They lit candles and waved and cheered passing buses — some of them of the No. 10 route that Baker was driving when she was killed. They briefly blocked Frederick Avenue to traffic, prayed, released balloons and observed a moment of silence.

MTA Administrator Paul Comfort said the entire organization was grieving.

"This is the biggest tragedy I think the MTA has had in at least 25 or 30 years or more," he said. "It's going to be a tough time — it's going to take us a while to come back."

Sean Cummings, who worked with Baker as a bus driver, said passengers expressed condolences to him throughout the day Wednesday.

"Everyone gets on the bus and gives me a hug, gives me a kiss, nobody's complaining," he said. "Even people standing on the corner, they run across, they didn't want to get on the bus. They just wanted to give me a handshake and give me a hug and say, 'Sorry for the loss of your co-worker.'"

Mourners left messages for all the victims.

"God bless the families and give them peace," one message read.

"MTA #280 To my loving sister gone too soon," said another.

And another: "Cherry — You have been a wonderful friend and coworker. Always so kind and giving. I will never forget your kindness and generosity. You will be missed."

Cheryl Askins and Coleen Harrell didn't know any of the victims. But they stopped by Wednesday to pay their respects and write condolences on the boards.

"I ride the No. 10 bus, me and my kids, in the morning," Askins said. "It could have been us on the bus. I just thank God that it wasn't us. You're here today and gone tomorrow. And this was just a tragedy."

Three patients remained hospitalized Wednesday at the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center, one in critical condition, police said. The others were in fair and serious condition.

Two women were discharged Wednesday, according to University of Maryland Medical System spokeswoman Lisa Clough.

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Two other passengers were taken to Saint Agnes, and one was taken to Sinai Hospital.

The school bus was traveling east on Frederick Avenue when it crashed into a Ford Mustang police said. It then continued on and struck the MTA bus near Monastery Avenue, police said.

"I didn't see it coming," said Kennedy, the injured passenger.

She said she remembers only walking on the bus, greeting the driver, swiping her pass, taking a seat and talking to a woman next to her, an acquaintance she knows from her morning and evening commute.

When she came to, she said, emergency responders were on the scene.

"They had to pry open the door and they had to take me by my arms and lift me up," she said.

She said she was discharged Tuesday night from the Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Kennedy spoke in the office of attorney William H. "Billy" Murphy Jr. She used a cane to walk, and said she sustained a fractured jaw, a laceration on her forehead, bruising and other injuries.

Kennedy said she did not know what might have caused the crash. She and Murphy asked anyone with information to come forward.

"We need to know why it happened," she said. "[I want] to get justice for the ones who passed away and the ones that are still alive, that made it like I have."

Police released recordings of 911 calls that captured the chaotic moments immediately after the crash.

One brief call consists almost entirely of unintelligible screaming — only the words "MTA and a yellow bus" come through clearly. The operator tried to calm the caller and asked her to listen, but the line went dead.

Another caller said a woman who was on the bus had approached her.

"There's somebody on the bus yelling," the caller said.

The operator gave her instructions on how to reassure other people nearby, which the caller then repeats.

"Help is on the way," the woman calls out.

A passerby who gave his name as Cameron described the scene almost as it unfolded.

"The school bus was going 90," he told the operator. "The school bus tore off the street and kept on moving."

Baltimore Sun reporters Tim Prudente and Kevin Rector contributed to this article.

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