A commercial bus crash that injured several members of an Illinois community college basketball team occurred when the bus driver suffered a medical emergency behind the wheel, investigators said.
The bus was carrying members of the Highland Community College women’s basketball team home to Freeport, Illinois, from North Dakota State College of Science in Wahpeton when it crashed Saturday, March 10, at 6:46 p.m. on I-94 near St. Michael, Minnesota.
The bus driver, 64-year-old Paul William Cheeseman, and 11 others were taken to area hospitals with various injuries, none of which were reported to be life-threatening. The injured passengers were said to be in fair condition Saturday night.
According to the Associated Press, Minnesota State Patrol spokeswoman Lt. Tiffani Nielson said the bus was traveling eastbound on I-94 when the driver suffered an “unknown medical episode,” causing the bus to veer onto the median where it struck trees and a highway sign before reentering the highway. The bus eventually came to a stop in a ditch.
Pictures of the crash scene show the wrecked bus with the name “Cheeseman Coaches” on the side. Mr. Cheeseman is the owner of Cheeseman Coaches, according to the AP.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), the agency the regulates buses and other commercial vehicles traveling across state lines, has strict rules governing the medical fitness of commercial bus and truck drivers.
The Department of Transportation (DOT) requires commercially licensed bus and truck drivers to have a physical examination conducted by a licensed medical examiner listed on the FMCSA’s National Registry. Medical examiners include doctors of medicine, doctors of osteopathy, physician assistants, advanced practice nurses, and chiropractic doctors.
A DOT physical exam is valid for up to 24 months. The medical examiner may also certify a commercial driver’s medical fitness for less than 24 months when there is a medical condition, such as high blood pressure, that must be monitored.
According to WREX Channel 13, Highland Community College President Tim Hood issued the following statement:
“Our players, coaches, and staff went through such a traumatic incident last night, and we are so thankful for the fast response to the emergency and medical crews who were quickly on the scene to respond. From moments after learning about the incident to right now, we are concentrating on the physical and emotional support to the team following this terrible accident.”