A school bus carrying children to the National Aquarium was hit by a van and overturned along Baltimore-Washington Parkway yesterday morning in a four-vehicle accident that left them briefly trapped, screaming and crying for their mothers.
But tragedy was averted.
Though more than 20 people were injured, none died. By the end of the day, all the children, who were from a Washington day camp, had been sent home from area hospitals, authorities said.
Among the injured were a convict serving a life sentence for murder and the two correctional officers who had been driving him to a medical appointment, and the most seriously hurt - a worker who was struck by one of the vehicles as she sprayed pesticide along the parkway.
The accident occurred about 9 a.m. near Linthicum in the northbound lanes just north of the Baltimore Beltway. It shut down the parkway and backed up traffic on connecting arteries as ambulances shuttled the injured, police collected evidence and measured skid marks, and witnesses recounted the scary seconds and ensuing chaos.
"I just started grabbing kids," said Greg Fleishman, a 38-year-old Odenton equipment operator. He said he saw a white Ford van come off the sharply curved Beltway ramp, swerve onto the parkway and clip the back of the bus, which spun out of control and flipped onto its side on the grassy shoulder.
"The kids were screaming, crying - hollering for their moms," he said.
Fleishman and others opened the rear emergency door of the bus to reach children, who were piled on top of one another. One girl's arm was trapped under a twisted window frame, said Fleishman, adding that he thought of his four children during the rescue.
"I just kept saying, 'You'll be all right.' Most of them came right to us," he said. "I was so worried we'd find one of them trapped under the bus."
Fleishman, an employee of Dynasty Equipment, said he had been scheduled to do roadwork and had stopped alongside the highway minutes before the swerving, glass-breaking and brake-screeching of the four vehicles - the bus, two vans and a car that careened off the road.
The injured roadside worker, Joyce Puiphus, 40, of Laurel, was hit either by the bus or the car - a Nissan Sentra whose driver was apparently trying to avoid the collision, police said. She was listed in serious condition last night at Maryland Shock Trauma Center, a nursing coordinator said.
More than 50 firefighters and paramedics from Anne Arundel, Baltimore and Howard counties had rushed to the accident scene.
The nine children, ages 5 to 8, were accompanied by six counselors from the District of Columbia Parks and Recreation Department's Aqua Day Camp. They and the bus driver, Ophelia McLaney of Arlington, Va., were all released after hospital treatment.
State police were continuing an investigation of the crash, but a spokesman, Maj. Greg Shipley, said it appeared to have been caused by a white Ford van that witnesses said had come off the Beltway ramp north onto the parkway, swerved into the middle lane and clipped the rear of the bus.
The van's driver, identified as Tyron A. Hickson, 29, of the 1500 block of Argyle Ave. in Baltimore, was released after treatment at North Arundel Hospital, then charged with reckless and negligent driving, using speed greater than reasonable and making unsafe lane changes, police said.
The car, driven by Walter E. Bigelow, 42, of Annapolis, might have been hit by the bus before the car clipped trees along the right side of the parkway, according to police. Though the car was heavily damaged, Bigelow was released after treatment at St. Agnes HealthCare.
The driver of a black Department of Correction transport van from the maximum-security House of Correction Annex swerved left - apparently trying to avoid the accident - and struck an embankment in the grassy median before stopping short of the southbound lanes.
The correctional officers - Paul McKinney, 32, and Donald Ford, 31 - were taking an unidentified convict to University of Maryland Medical Center for an appointment, prison officials said.
The officers were treated in the emergency room there for neck and back injuries, and released. The inmate - whose name was not divulged because relatives had not been notified - was the only other person remaining hospitalized last night, under guard and in stable condition, police said.
It could take several days for state police accident specialists to determine the speed of Hickson's van from measurements taken at the scene, said Trooper Cindy Brown, adding that the sequence of events also remained under investigation.
Two buses from the District of Columbia camp had been heading to Baltimore's Inner Harbor for a field trip, according to Sharon H. Henery, a spokeswoman for the department of parks and recreation there.
The second bus, which was not involved in the accident, returned to Washington by 12:30 p.m. without having reached its destination - slowed and detoured around the accident site along with thousands of motorists.
By then, some of the injured children, who had been treated at North Arundel Hospital, were being released to worried relatives who had rushed to the emergency room.
Karen Wingate of Fort Washington, the mother of one girl, said she heard about the accident on the news. "I got sick to my stomach," she said. "For some reason, I just knew it was her bus before they even called."
Maya Washington, an 18-year-old camp counselor, attended to the children as soon as she was treated. "I can't even think about what happened in the accident right now," she said. "All I can think about are the kids."
Camp counselor Evita Pass, 16, and four campers were treated at Harbor Hospital and released. Counselors Enrique Orellana, 17, Obika Griffith, 17, and Ricardo Young, 18, along with another camper, were treated at St. Agnes HealthCare and released.
Sun staff writers Stephanie Hanes and Claire Adams contributed to this article.