New information about the tour bus involved in fatal Arkansas crash

Today federal investigators did not announce a cause for a tour bus crash that claimed 14 lives but said the bus was in an unsafe condition before it went off an east Arkansas highway near Memphis, Tenn.

The National Transportation Safety Board said the bus had pre-existing cracks on frame rails that held up its motor in the rear of the bus. The agency said the bus would not have been allowed on the road had it been inspected before the Saturday crash, which also left 16 people injured.

The agency did not link the cracks to the crash. Investigators are still evaluating the bus, which was bound from Chicago to Tunica, Miss.

The NTSB said it would subpoena the Chicago medical records of the driver and will make inquiries in Tunica to uncover more background.

On Tuesday, the first lawsuit related to the crash was filed in Chicago. The bus that crashed Saturday along Interstate 55 north of Marion was carrying 30 people on their semiannual trek to a Tunica casino. Those still in critical condition were among 16 injured. The wreck occurred just before dawn, in a light mist, when the bus failed to follow a left-hand curve, left the roadway and flipped, landing upside down with most of its roof ripped off by the force of the impact.

Also Tuesday, officials in Crittenden County released audio tapes of telephone calls made to its emergency alert center. "There's about 30 people out here. I mean people are laying all in the field, a lot of them hurt - you got about 30 on the bus," a motorist who witnessed the accident said.

The first lawsuit concerning the accident claimed negligence, brake problems and speed too high for road and traffic conditions. The lawsuit, which seeks more than $50,000, was filed by McKinley Jacobs on behalf of his wife Fannie Jacobs, 68, who was killed. Named as defendants were Roosevelt Walters, his bus company, and the estate of his late brother, Herbert Walters, who was driving the bus and was killed in the accident. Elliott Price, attorney for Walters' bus company, had not seen the lawsuit Tuesday and said he wouldn't comment on pending litigation.

Federal investigators in eastern Arkansas said they righted the bus, which had been towed away from the crash site upside down and without its roof. They said examining the bus upright would provide more information about the cause of the accident. A crash survivor, Gloria Phoenix, 72, was released from St. Bernard's Medical Center in Jonesboro, Ark. on Tuesday. Another woman was released the day of the crash. Other survivors were still being treated at hospitals in Little Rock and Memphis, Tenn. Two were in critical condition, two in serious condition, six in fair condition and four in good condition.

Tiny Jackson, 72, remained hospitalized at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock on Tuesday with a broken ankle and numerous cuts and bruises. Jackson's daughter, Paula Harris of Chicago, said it was the first time her mother took a trip to Tunica. She went with a friend, Genise Meekins, who died in the accident. Harris said her mother was alert and eating on Tuesday and that she became very upset when she talked about the crash. "She remembers the bus turning," Harris said. "She woke up and said, 'Lord have mercy, we're turning over.' She remembers looking at the bus and it was upside down. She remembers screaming, 'Help, help."' Jackson also told her family about a passerby who stopped just after the accident to help her and gave her his cell phone so they could call her husband at home in Chicago. The woman said she didn't get the man's name. "She remembers his picking her up and taking her to a safer location," Harris said. "She kept saying he stayed with them and prayed. She remembers the nice man who called her husband." Harris said her mother and Meekins had attended church together and were good friends. She said her mother does not know that her friend died in the crash. "She knows that 14 people are killed, but she doesn't know who," Harris said. "That will come much later." Jackson worked as a care provider for four senior citizens in Chicago, Harris said, and doctors told her she may be released Tuesday night or Wednesday. "It's not luck, we're blessed," Harris said.

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)