BENSON, N.C. (WNCN) — A grandmother was killed and eight people were injured — including one critically — after a bus driver fell asleep causing the bus and a car to crash on Interstate 95 near Benson Sunday morning, North Carolina Highway Patrol officials said.
The incident occurred in the southbound lanes of I-95 at mile marker 81 at approximately 4:20 a.m. and involved a bus with 48 people aboard from Queens, NY heading to a spiritual conference in Fayetteville.
Authorities said that the driver fell asleep while the bus was heading southbound on I-95 near the I-40 interchange, causing the bus to drift to the right side of the road.
The bus driver then overcorrected and then crossed the median, headed south in the northbound lanes before slamming into the guardrail, troopers said. The bus driver, 23-year-old Eric Jimmerson from New York City, was ejected, said Sergeant Michael Baker of the NC Highway Patrol.
In an attempt to avoid a collision with the bus, a car heading northbound on I-95 swerved off the road and crashed into a tree, killing a 54-year-old grandmother who was a passenger in the car, authorities said.
Troopers said that car and the bus never actually collided.
Four people were in the Ford Mustang that ran off the road, including two children ages 12 and 13 and their grandparents, Wilfredo Ortiz, age 68, and Enid Ortiz, who died, Baker said.
The other child was taken to WakeMed for surgery, but authorities said it didn’t appear the child was seriously injured.
Wilfredo Ortiz, who is from Palm Bay, FL, and one of the 2 children were OK, a Highway patrol trooper said.
Forty-eight people were on the bus, which was headed to a spiritual conference at the Science of the Soul Study Center in Fayetteville, and as many as five people, not including the driver, suffered non-life threatening injuries, a trooper said.
Rajan Sham Dasani, caretaker of the Science of the Soul Study Center property, said four people were injured, not including the bus driver. Those injured and all the other passengers all made it to the conference.
Dasani said that the thousands of people in attendance at the conference prayed for the family of the woman killed in the crash.
“I’m not in that family. I can just imagine what that family has been going through. All of a sudden, they lose a life. Very challenging,” Dasani said.
The bus driver is in serious condition at WakeMed. The bus was owned by Apex Coach Company. A federal safety report shows that Apex has been cited for 17 minor violations over the last two years, but no crashes or serious violations. When WNCN called the company to speak with someone, the person who answered the phone hung up.
There were at least three other buses headed to the same conference, but none were involved in the wreck.
Highway Patrol officials said “investigators are consulting with DA’s office regarding charges” but the bus driver won’t be charged at this time. As of Sunday night Jimmerson was in critical condition.
The prayer conference is a one-day event that attracts folks from all over the country – even those on the west coast, Dasani said.
“It sobers everyone as to the value of life,” Dasani added.
The southbound lanes were closed for almost three hours.