Authorities are crediting the quick action of two women for saving the lives of fellow passengers on an Amtrak bus Friday morning on Highway 101 after the driver had a medical emergency that claimed his life.
The women were able to remove the driver from his seat and bring the bus to a safe stop on the Santa Maria River Bridge, authorities say. There were no other serious injuries in the 7:10 a.m. incident.
According to the California Highway Patrol, the bus driver had just picked up passengers in Santa Maria and was en route to Hanford when he drifted left into the northbound railing of the bridge south of Donovan Road.
“The driver had a medical emergency of some sort that caused him to lose control of the bus, and the bus veered into the center railing of the Santa Maria River Bridge,” Santa Maria fire Battalion Chief Ed Hadfield told Noozhawk.
The bus continued at highway speed, grinding against the center railing. That’s when two female passengers took action after noticing the driver appeared to be unconscious.
“The two female passengers grabbed the steering wheel and were able to safely pull the bus over to the right shoulder,” CHP Officer David Medina said.
CHP officers and American Medical Response personnel administered CPR on the driver but he could not be revived and was pronounced dead at the scene, Medina said. The name of the 42-year-old Los Osos resident has not been released.
Medina reported that one passenger complained of pain, but there were no other injuries.
“It was a very significant incident,” Hadfield said. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family of the driver, but had it not been for the quick actions of the passengers, this could have been a horrific scene.”
CHP Officer Craig Carrier said the women asked that their identities not be disclosed and they declined media requests for comment.
The CHP reported that a total of nine passengers were on the bus. Marc Magliari, an Amtrak media relations manager in Chicago, said “the passenger count was no more than 16.”
Magliari told Noozhawk that the bus driver was an employee of Visalia-based Orange Belt Stages, a longtime Amtrak contractor.
“Amtrak is extending its condolences to the family of the operator,” he said.
The CHP investigation is continuing. Magliari said the bus was “released by CHP and was driven from the scene.”
Check back with Noozhawk for updates.