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Bus Crash That Killed 4 'Being Investigated Like a Homicide'

Saturday September 27, 2014    9:11 PM

The crash of a bus and a tractor-trailor that left four Texas college softball players dead and 15 others injured is "being investigated like a homicide," police said today, as officials try to piece together what happened.

The early indication is that the tractor-trailer crossed over Interstate 35, into the southbound lanes, near the Oklahoma-Texas border, and struck a bus owned by North Central Texas College that was carrying the team back to campus after a game Friday evening.

"We just know that the semi impacted the bus and the bus was traveling southbound on the interstate when the collision occurred," Oklahoma Highway Patrol Capt. Ronnie Hampton said.

"Right now, it's being investigated like a homicide," Hampton said. "Something happened to cause [the tractor-trailor] to depart the roadway and impact the other vehicle."

According to the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety report, the weather was clear and the roads were dry when the crash occurred.

The side of the team bus was crushed where it was struck by the semi, but the front end remained mostly undamaged.

The truck kept going after striking the bus until it finally went off the side of the road, Hampton said.

"It took about an hour before we found the semi," he said.

The driver of the tractor trailor, a 2013 Peterbilt owned by Quickway Transportation of Nashville, Tenn., was identified as Russell Staley, 53, of Saginaw Texas. He was treated and released at Pauls Valley General Hospital.

The college-owned bus, a 2008 Champion Motor Coach, was driven by Van Hedrick, 48, of Gainesville Texas. He was treated and released at Mercy Hospital in Ardmore.

Hampton said both drivers would undergo toxicology tests, and there were no charges pending.

A team of investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board arrived this afternoon to look for answers about the deadly crash.

The four players killed were identified by the Oklahoma Highway Patrol as Meagan Richardson, 19, Brooke Deckard, 20, Katelynn Woodlee, 18, and Jaiden Pelton 20. All of them were from small North Texas towns near the college.

Three of the players died at the scene and a fourth died at a hospital in Sulphur, Okla., Hampton said.

Bailey Buchanan, 18, was in critical condition at Oklahoma University Medical Center, hospital clinical coordinator Darina Shellman said.

Rachel Hitt, 19, was listed in fair condition at Norman Regional Hospital, spokeswoman Kelly Wells said.

"This is the most traumatic event that NCTC has had in its 90 years of history," College President Brent Wallace said today in Gainesville, Texas, about 60 miles south of the crash site.

Rich Raymond, father of freshman player Emily Kuser, who survived the crash, told The Associated Press that many of the girls had been playing together on regional softball travel teams since they were six or seven years old.

"It's just an amazing family of girls and athletes and coaches," Raymond said. "Just such a tight community. And even if your girl isn't going to the school there's a lot of pain right now."

The school announced that there would be a prayer vigil for the students Sunday evening.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Photo: A wrecker removes the team bus as Highway Patrol and emergency personnel work the scene of a fatality accident just south of the Turner Falls area on Saturday, Sept. 27, 2014 in Davis, Okla.
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