Two Die In Normal West Bus Crash On I-74

A screenshot from a video posted on Facebook of a passer-by who spotted the crash off Interstate 74.

A screenshot from a video posted on Facebook of a passer-by who spotted the crash off Interstate 74.

Mike Edwards/Facebook

Two people died and two others received serious injuries Wednesday night when a semitrailer truck on Interstate 74 crashed head-on into a school bus carrying eight Normal West girls basketball players back from a game in Champaign. None of the students were critically injured.

The crash happened at 8:30 p.m. on I-74 around mile marker 137 between the Downs and U.S. 51/Main Street exits. Illinois State Police said the semitrailer truck was driving in the wrong lane when it struck the bus head-on. Videos circulating on social media showed the front of the bus caved in.

Killed in the crash was Charles Crabtree, 72, of Normal, said State Police Trooper Tracy Lillard. Crabtree was a volunteer with the basketball team, she said. The driver of the semi, 34, of Iowa also passed away after being flown to OSF Saint Francis Medical Center in Peoria.

Two others were in serious condition late Wednesday at OSF HealthCare Saint Francis Medical Center in Peoria, said OSF Vice President for Public Relations Karen Brodbeck. Four others were in good condition at OSF HealthCare St. Joseph Medical Center in Bloomington, she said. 

Illinois State Police at a media briefing late Wednesday at Normal Community West High School.

Photo Credit: Charlie Schlenker/WGLT

"Our hearts go out to all affected by this incident," Brodbeck said.

There were 11 people on the Normal Unit 5 bus, including eight students, Crabtree, a coach, and the bus driver, authorities said. They were returning from a JV girls basketball game earlier Wednesday night at Champaign Central High School. The team included freshmen, sophomores, and one junior.

The coach and driver were in serious condition at Saint Francis Medical Center in Peoria, Wednesday night.

All students were stable with non-life-threatening injuries and have family with them at various hospitals, Brown said.

"Please keep our Normal West family in your thoughts," Normal Unit 5 said on Facebook.

Parents and students flocked to Normal West late Wednesday looking for support and information.

"Social media spreads information very quickly and students began to gather here. So, we brought in administrators and social emotional support and we had some dogs here tonight, emotional (support) dogs," said District Communications Director Dayna Brown.

Brown said social media is so fast she received notice of the crash at virtually the same time from both police and her 17-year old student daughter.

Support for students included service dogs, counsellors, and at least three pastors from the community. Some adults joined hands and bowed in prayer. Students hugged each other.

"Our hearts go out to the students and players, coaches and teachers, family and friends, and all those in the Normal West family and Unit 5 community," the Unit Five Education Association teachers' union said on Twitter. "Please join us in sending positive thoughts and prayers on behalf of the Wildcats tonight." 

Westbound I-74 remained closed late Wednesday. The Illinois Department of Transportation said to expect significant delays, calling it a "major traffic incident." McLean County Coroner Kathy Davis was at the scene.

"Currently the crash remains an open and ongoing investigation," Illinois State Police said in a statement.

Trooper Lillard told reporters about midnight that it would be at least two more hours before accident reconstructionists were done processing the scene and the interstate could be reopened. Until then troopers planned to reroute traffic through Downs and onto U.S. Rt 150.

State Police did not immediately have the name of the driver of the semi or the firm that owns the tractor trailer.

Unit 5's Dayna Brown said Normal West will have a regular school day Thursday and the district will have supports in place for students, parents, and staff members.

Story source: Illinois Public Radio