Seven employees of an Alaskan seafood company were injured Sunday morning after the driver of a company bus they were riding in suffered a heart attack and lost consciousness, causing him to crash into a tree.
Alaska State Troopers said the driver, 59-year-old Stephen Battershall of Sterling, Alaska, died at the scene of natural causes. The seven injured passengers were taken to Central Peninsula Hospital in Kenai for treatment. Their injuries, though not specified, were deemed to be non-life-threatening.
The bus belonged to Snug Harbor Seafoods, a Kenai-based purveyor of fresh and frozen salmon and other Alaskan seafood. It was transporting 20 employees to Anchorage, about three and a half hours north, when the Kenai Peninsula Central Emergency Services received a call reporting the crash at 6:45 a.m.
According to the Associated Press, passengers said Mr. Battershall lost consciousness about two miles east of Soldotna. The bus careened off the road and traveled a quarter mile before running over a gravel mound and into a wooded area where it struck a tree.
The AP reported that it took responders longer than usual to reach the crash site because it wasn’t visible from the highway. Some of the uninjured passengers hiked back to the main road and flagged rescuers who were searching for the bus.
Although private drivers normally aren’t held to the same strict federal health requirements as drivers of commercial trucks and buses, the Alaska crash nonetheless illuminates the importance of driver fitness, especially when it comes to passenger buses.
Ordinarily, one’s medical data is an extremely private matter. However, when drivers must sit long hours behind the wheel of a bus or truck weighing up to 40 tons, their health becomes a matter of public safety.
Federal regulators allow drivers with a clean bill of health a medical certification valid for two years. Drivers with high blood pressure (stable with treatment) and heart disease may be approved for one year before another checkup is required.
Other conditions, such as diabetes, sleep apnea and other disorders may require more or less frequent checkups depending on the judgment of a Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA)-approved physician who knows the federal rules, the demands of the job, and the special risks posed by driving large commercial trucks and buses.