HAZLE TWP. — Two dozen Greater Hazleton YMCA/YWCA day campers were injured Friday when the school bus they were in was rear-ended by a tractor-trailer, causing officials to close the southbound lanes of Interstate 81 for more than two hours. An adult staff member was more seriously injured and taken to an Allentown hospital.
The crash occurred at about 10:15 a.m. when the truck hit the bus from behind in the southbound lanes of the highway near mile marker 139.5, state police said.
A Mazda three-passenger vehicle also was involved in the crash, said state police at Frackville, but they did not indicate how, adding that more details would be released at a later time. Police said 39 children and eight adults were on the bus, two people were in the Mazda and one person was in the truck.
A second bus full of day-campers was behind the truck when the crash occurred but was not involved in the crash, said Sue Farley, CEO of the Hazleton YMCA/YWCA. No one on that bus was injured, but the children on it were transported to Hazleton General as well to facilitate coordinating with parents and guardians of the children.
When initial reports of the crash were being relayed on the police scanner, the request for emergency responders was for a “mass casualty incident.”
Hospital administrators did not call an internal disaster drill, “but we went through the same motions,” said Jane A. Danish, director of Administrative Services and Community Relations for the Greater Hazleton Health Alliance.
Hospital staffers who were not scheduled to work, staffers working on other floors of the hospital and all available surgeons and pediatricians were called to the Emergency Department. A makeshift triage area was set up in the hospital chapel and an unoccupied area nearby.
Several ambulances transported children to Hazleton General Hospital. Two children were seen walking from one ambulance into the hospital while other children were taken into the hospital on stretchers. A hospital security guard did not allow a reporter onto the property while the crash victims were being received.
Health Alliance Community Relations Coordinator Leigh Ann Weidlich later reported that 26 children who were passengers on the bus involved in the crash were triaged in the makeshift triage area. In addition, 11 others were seen in the hospital Emergency Department, for a total of 37 patients seen at Hazleton General.
One adult — a chaperone — was flown by medical helicopter from Hazleton General to Lehigh Valley Hospital.
Farley said she spoke with the chaperone, whom she said “will be fine.”
State police identified the truck driver as Randy A. Smith, 51, of the Drums section of Butler Township, and the bus driver as Lori A. Kammerdiener, 50, of McAdoo. Both were transported by ambulance to Hazleton General.
The driver of the Mazda was Michael J. Page, 27, of Annandale, Va., and the passenger was Mayuree Voss, no age provided, of Owings Mills, Md. Neither were injured, police said.
Danish said most of the injuries were minor bumps and bruises and some whiplash.
Farley said the day-campers are between the ages of 6 and 14. They were on their way to Pottsville for one of the camp’s planned field trips, which on Friday was to consist of a day of swimming at the JFK Pool.
Traffic was backed up for about seven miles on the interstate, and local roadways in the Hazleton and McAdoo areas were congested as motorists tried to find alternate routes.
State Route 93 through West Hazleton and Hazleton was jammed with traffic. Construction on Route 93 (the Broad Street Corridor Project) added to the backups.
State Route 309 from Hazleton to McAdoo was clogged for miles with passenger cars, tractor-trailers and sport utility vehicles and pickup trucks towing boats and campers.
The detour took traffic through McAdoo and re-entered Interstate 81 south at the Mill Hill Road junction.
Emergency responders closed the on-ramps to Interstate 81 south at Route 93 and the Hazleton Beltway junctions, forcing motorists to turn around onto the heavily congested Route 309.
One lane of Interstate 81 south reopened at 1 p.m. and the other lane opened 30 minutes later.
The crash occurred near the Luzerne-Schuylkill county line between the Hazleton and McAdoo exits.
Times Leader Staff Writer Edward Lewis contributed to this report.