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BANGOR, Maine — Coach Richard Barron said he and the players and coaches on the University of Maine women’s basketball team feel lucky to be alive after being involved in a bus crash.
“The more we all talk about it and think about it, the luckier we feel,” Barron said Wednesday afternoon as the team waited to begin its return trip to Orono.
“We feel that it was miraculous,” he said of getting through the accident without more numerous and more serious injuries.
The Cyr Bus Lines motor coach on which the team was riding was involved in an accident Tuesday night on Interstate 95 in Georgetown, Mass., when the driver slumped over the wheel as the bus was traveling southbound at approximately 8:30 p.m.
According to Barron, the coach veered across two southbound lanes, through the median, across the three northbound lanes of the highway and into a stand of small trees.
According to a report on BostonGlobe.com, Massachusetts State Police have identified the driver as 55-year-old Jeff Hamlin of Charleston. Hamlin was taken from the scene by medical helicopter to Boston Medical Center, where police report he is hospitalized with serious injuries.
Rick Soules, general manager at Old Town-based bus company John T. Cyr and Sons, said he did not know any details about what might have led to the accident. He said he had not spoken with anyone who was riding on the bus.
“We were fortunate that there were no other vehicles coming or going that we made contact with, so that’s where we were lucky,” Soules said.
He was not willing to provide any details about Hamlin’s condition, other than the fact he is hospitalized. Soules said other information, including how long the driver has been employed by Cyr, likely would be released later.
Soules said motor coach travel is safe and that Cyr also boasts a strong safety record. However, he would not provide any details about whether Cyr motor coaches have been involved in other crashes in recent years.
“We’ve been in business for 100 years and we’ve traveled tens of millions of miles,” Soules said. “Last year, we traveled over 4 million miles.
“We, as a company, have been quite fortunate and quite safe,” he added.
All UMaine coaches and team members were treated or evaluated at three area hospitals, according to police. A release by the University of Maine said freshman student-athlete Milica Mitrovic suffered a broken hand in the crash.
Liz Wood only remembers bits and pieces of the crash.
“It happened really fast, like you have a few snippets in your mind from what you saw but you can’t really remember a ton,” Wood, a freshman forward from Catlett, Va., said during a stop at the Kennebunk Service Plaza. “We’re really lucky that we all got off OK.”
Wood was sitting on the right side of the bus, which faced traffic when the motor coach came to a stop.
“You could see headlights coming, which was kind of freaky,” she said.
With only relatively minor injuries — one player suffered a broken hand and others may have sustained concussions — Barron said the team was incredibly lucky.
“Any number of things could have happened from which nobody would have walked away,” Barron told reporters Wednesday at the Kennebunk rest stop.
A coach held open a window near the middle of the bus as the passengers climbed out and shimmied down an adjacent tree. Meanwhile, Barron said, a volunteer firefighter who happened to pass by stopped and helped stabilize the driver, who had been ejected from his seat and was lying in the bus stairwell.
Barron, who received treatment for minor cuts on his face caused by shattered glass, said during an earlier phone interview that he attempted to intervene when the bus began swerving to the left.
Barron explained that as he moved toward the driver, he was thrown into the stairwell by the front door.
“There were no heroics,” he said of his failed attempt.
In retrospect, he believes the situation played out better than if he had tried to take the wheel.
“I probably would have taken us on a different course and the course we took was the only one that would have saved all our lives,” said Barron, who believes if he had been standing he would have been thrown through the windshield when the bus hit the trees.
“It was truly miraculous that we took the course we did,” he added. “An oncoming semi-trailer could have hit us. There could have been fatalities in any other car that we had hit.”
The cause of the crash, which did not involve any other vehicles, remains under investigation by state police.
UMaine players tweeted that they were “blessed” that the accident wasn’t worse. Coaches from other teams tweeted best wishes to UMaine players and coaches.
Tyson McHatten, an athletic media relations manager for UMaine, said the team had stopped to eat in Portsmouth, N.H., shortly before the accident. It was quiet on the bus, with some people texting or listening to music and others sleeping.
McHatten knew something was wrong when he heard the bus tires on the rumble strip along the lefthand side of the interstate.
“I remember looking out the right window quickly and all I saw was headlights coming toward us,” he recounted. “Then I looked straight ahead, saw the trees, braced myself and held on.”
Barron said associate head coach Todd Steelman and others were yelling “get down, hold on,” as they realized a crash might be imminent.
Barron said his primary concern once the bus came to a stop after what he called “a terrifying five seconds” was to make sure everyone was OK. He tried to attend to Hamlin, who appeared to have significant injuries.
“Having been there and seeing the circumstances of the crash, where he ended up, it’s absolutely remarkable that he’s alive,” Barron said.
In the meantime, coaches and the athletic trainer checked on the players. The group gathered itself and prepared to leave the coach.
McHatten described the scene.
“For the most part, it was very calm,” he said. “There was no panic, no screaming, no pandemonium.”
With the front of the bus caved in and the door not operating, the occupants then began opening the emergency windows, but found there was a steeper drop to the ground on the left side, McHatten said.
“On the opposite side, there was a tree leaning up against the bus that acted almost like a slide or a ramp, so we were able to get the girls out,” he said.
McHatten said an unidentified man with medical knowledge also climbed onto the bus to assist Hamlin, who later was airlifted to Boston Medical Center.
“Everyone feels very blessed today to make it out how we did,” McHatten said. “Our thoughts are with the bus driver. We heard that he’s in stable condition, so that’s good.”
UMaine’s scheduled America East game Wednesday night at Boston University has been canceled. It is not likely to be made up, UMaine Athletics Director Steve Abbott said Tuesday night, because it will not have a bearing on the final regular-season standings.
Freelance reporter Noah Hurowitz contributed to this report from Kennebunk.