Bus driver's B.C. church in 'shock and disbelief' after Oregon crash
Published Tuesday, January 1, 2013 8:25AM EST
Last Updated Tuesday, January 1, 2013 3:28PM EST
Members of a Surrey, B.C. church spent New Year's Eve praying for a member of their congregation: the driver of the bus involved in a horrific crash in Oregon on the weekend that left nine people dead and many injured.
Haeng Kyu Hwang, a 54-year-old deacon at Kwanglim Church, is believed to still be in hospital following Sunday’s crash, though authorities have not released details about his condition.
Sonny Kang, youth pastor at the church, said the congregation is in "shock and disbelief" and held a special moment of silence during a New Year's Eve service to honour those affected by the crash.
Hwan's wife also attends Kwanglim Church, Kang said.
"She's shocked, very, very hurt by what's going on and trying to cope with the situation … Our church has a special care ministry team that's working specifically for that family," Kang told CTV British Columbia on Monday evening.
Police are still trying to confirm citizenship of many of the 48 people aboard the tour bus, which crashed through a guardrail and plunged down a steep embankment Sunday morning, killing nine and injuring dozens of others.
Lt. Gregg Hastings, of the Oregon State Police, told a news conference Monday that the majority of passengers were of Korean background and lived in British Columbia, Washington state, Oregon and even Idaho.
There’s a wide age range among the survivors -- from a seven-year-old girl to a 74-year-old woman -- although police say the deceased were all adults. The names of those victims have not been released.
Oregon police have been working with the B.C. RCMP and Korean consular officials in the U.S. to reach families and identify victims.
Victims recall moment of crash
Among those injured in the crash, one Vancouver student says he feels lucky to be alive after being ejected from the bus during the crash.
Jaemin Seo, a 23-year-old international student living in Vancouver, was thrown from the bus through a broken window.
"Some people were beside me but I thought one of them was already dead," Seo told CTV British Columbia. "I wanted to climb up to the road but I couldn't because I couldn't walk."
Seo was one of the lucky ones, suffering a fractured leg, some scrapes and bruises and 12 stitches on his wrist.
Another exchange student, Yoo Byung Woo, 25, told The Oregonian it was snowing and foggy on the highway. He and other passengers thought the bus driver wasn't driving as slowly as he should have been for the conditions.
"I felt like he was going too fast," Yoo said. "I worried about the bus."
Police have determined the bus was heading west on Interstate 84 when it collided with a concrete barrier bordering the left shoulder of the traffic lane. The bus then veered across two westbound lanes, went through a guardrail and plunged 60 metres down an embankment before it came to a rest.
Some of the passengers were ejected from the bus, while others were pinned inside the vehicle and had to await rescue.
Jennifer Sherman said her parents were both on the bus, but only her mother survived.
"She awoke in a riverbed and said there was something pinning my father down," Sherman said.
She added: "She said the driver kept passing people. I don't know about speed but the roads were icy and they just went off the cliff."
Police say the tour bus was owned by a Vancouver-area company called Mi Joo Tour & Travel.
Dr. Sandy Ramirez, of the American Red Cross, has been helping the victims, with assistance from a local resident, Jacob Contor, who happens to speak some Korean.
"The language barrier certainly makes it harder. And I also think because they are isolated from their support community and family and friends,” Ramirez said. “They are away from home, so yes, I think that added an additional element of additional anxiety and discomfort."
Investigation could take weeks
Hastings said police will be looking into both the driver and vehicle to determine the cause of the tragic accident.
“The cause of the accident still under investigation, will take at least four weeks,” Hasting said at a Monday afternoon news conference.
They plan to interview the bus driver when he is able to speak, and conduct a mechanical investigation of the bus.
The National Transportation Safety Board said it will look into icy road conditions as a possible factor.