By Bill Kirk
---- — GEORGETOWN — Several people were injured last night after a bus carrying 21 members of the University of Maine at Orono’s women’s basketball team crashed into the woods on the northbound side of Interstate 95 between Tenney and Jewett streets.
The 8:30 p.m. accident appears to have been caused when the driver suffered from some kind of medical seizure and blacked out, forcing the coach to grab the wheel of the commercial bus as it veered from the southbound side of the highway, across the median strip, over the northbound lanes and into the woods.
No other vehicles were involved.
The driver, whose name was not available last night, was pinned inside the vehicle and had to be extricated by firefighters at the scene. A medical helicopter landed on the highway and flew the man to Boston Medical Center for treatment of non-life-threatening injuries.
Coach Richard Barron was treated for facial lacerations. Two of the players, Ashleigh Roberts and Corinne Wellington, were also injured, as was the team’s director of basketball operations, Samantha Wheeler, according to a statement released by the school last night.
Reports from the scene said all the players and staff were transported to area hospitals, including Beverly, Anna Jaques in Newburyport and Merrimack Valley Hospital in Haverhill. It was unclear last night if more people were injured.
”We’re very thankful that this accident was not any worse than it was,” said Robert Dana, vice president for student affairs and dean of students. “The thoughts of the entire University of Maine community are with the bus driver and the team as they contend with this very frightening event.”
The University of Maine athletic director, Steve Abbott, said in a TV interview that he was told by the coach that the driver was suffering from some kind of medical problem and passed out while driving. Abbott said the coach told him he tried grabbing the steering wheel at one point.
The vehicle was owned by Cyr Bus Line, a commercial carrier out of Old Town, Maine.
Meanwhile, a State Police cruiser, pulling off to the side of the highway just north of the bus crash, was hit from behind. No injuries are believed to have resulted.
The highway was shut down at the Route 133 exit for a short period of time while the helicopter landed to take the driver from the scene. Two of the lanes remained closed while the passengers were tended to by rescue crews. Two lanes of the highway were reopened by 9:30 p.m. The accident scene was located between Tenney and Jewett streets, which is north of the Route 133 exit.
It took several hours to remove the vehicle from the woods.
According to the University of Maine website, the women’s basketball team had a game against Boston University scheduled for tonight.