HAMLET — Four people died and more than 40 were injured Saturday after a charter bus carrying a football team crashed near the N.C. 177 overpass on the U.S. 74 bypass.
“It was like a war zone,” Hamlet Fire Chief Calvin White said Monday. “There were injured people everywhere.”
The Hamlet Fire and Rescue Department was just one of multiple agencies that responded to what White said was one of the worst wrecks in the county’s history.
“As far back as I can remember, we’ve never had this many injuries at one time — and/or fatalities — in a single wreck,” he said. White is going into his 39th year as a firefighter in Richmond County.
According to the N.C. Highway Patrol, a preliminary investigation shows that the 1993 MCI motor coach bus was traveling east on the U.S. 74 bypass when the left front tire blew, causing the vehicle to drift into the median.
Troopers say the bus struck the guardrail before sideswiping a concrete column of the N.C. 177 overpass bridge, coming to a final rest on the other side.
White said that the call came in around 2:35 p.m.
The driver’s side was heavily damaged, with a strip from the side of the bus peeled back.
The passengers — members of a football team from several colleges in the Rock Hill, South Carolina area — were on the way to Fayetteville to play in a game at the University of God’s Chosen, according to the Highway Patrol.
The driver, 43-year-old Brian Andre Kirkpatrick of Chester, South Carolina, was pronounced dead at the scene, along with 21-year-Devonte Gibson, of Rock Hill, and 19-year-old Teto Hamilton of Pahokee, Flordia, troopers said.
Lt. Jeff Gordon with the N.C. Highway Patrol said that 8-year-old Darice Hicks, of Rock Hill, later died at Sandhills Regional Medical Center in Hamlet.
Several photos taken by passersby and posted to social media showed some of the injured passengers being treated at the scene.
Troopers say that the other 42 occupants were taken to Sandhills, Scotland Memorial Hospital in Laurinburg, FirstHealth Richmond Memorial Hospital in Rockingham and FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital in Pinehurst.
The eight patients taken to Moore County were treated and released by early Saturday evening, according to Ellen Cooper with FirstHealth.
Cooper said that 10 patients were initially taken to Richmond Memorial and two were airlifted to UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill.
Of the eight that remained, three others were later taken to Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte — two by ground, one by air — while three had been released and there were two others in serious condition.
By Monday, Cooper said all victims from the bus crash had been discharged.
Crews from all over the county — including the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office and Ellerbe, Cordova and East Rockingham fire departments — also responded to the crash. There was even assistance from Moore County Emergency Management and the Marlboro County (South Carolina) Rescue Squad.
Traffic was diverted around the scene using the on and off ramps for N.C. 177. The small section of highway remained closed for hours as troopers conducted an investigation. The scene was finally cleared around 11:45 p.m., Gordon said.
“In my opinion, it’s one of the best efforts the county has put together,” White said. “Everybody worked together to get a very serious job done in a timely manner.”
White said he offers a “big thanks” to all the agencies involved.
Gordon said the wreck is still under investigation.
Reach William R. Toler at 910-817-2675 and follow him on Twitter @William_r_Toler.
William Toler is editor of the Richmond Daily Journal