Daughters of late bus driver visit crash site - WVVA TV Bluefield Beckley WV News, Weather and Sports

Daughters of late bus driver visit crash site


Back in 1985, a tragic accident occurred on Route 52 in Bramwell. A tour bus collided with a train, killing several people. Today, the daughters of the late bus driver visited the site. WVVA's James McDowell was there, and shares their story.

In October of '85, a tour bus filled with a gospel choir departed from Roanoke, bound for a church in McDowell County... but they never reached their appointed destination. Journalist David Corcoran just happened to be traveling along Route 52 with his family, when they witnessed the bus plow head-on into the train. Corcoran says he immediately drove to resident's home to call 9-1-1, then went down to the scene to help. "The bus was like a beehive. It was... um... just, yells of pain and suffering and torment. It was horrible."
The collision smashed in the front door, and since there was no rear exit, passengers were literally trapped inside. Corcoran remembers, "So they had to get through the windows. And they were... knocking the windows... the men were socking the windows with their hands. And they were, you know, getting all scraped up."
The crash killed four people that fateful Sunday morning, including the driver, Howard Stout. Stout's daughter Beverly Sowards says she and her sister Traci were at home with their mom, when they heard the news. "We actually had the radio on, and heard it on the radio. We didn't... it didn't give names or anything, but we heard that there was a bus crash, for the company he drove for, in Bramwell, West Virginia. My mom, just, pretty much turned white. I mean... she knew."
Sowards says her father was very familiar with the many hills and valleys of the two Virginias. "His full-time job was... he drove a tanker truck, for Exxon... out of Roanoke. So that's what he did. That was his weekly job. He took the bus job as a side job to make extra money."
Anyone who has ever traveled along Route 52 from Mercer to McDowell County is quite aware of the steep 8% grade approaching Bramwell. A police officer at the scene told Corcoran it appeared the bus's brakes failed, potentially leading to the deadly impact. Kenneth Mitchem lives just across the river from the crash site, and remembers how dangerous 52 could be before the bridge was constructed. "It just was drastic, if you were doing any speed when you got right here to this curve. The curve was steep, then you hit a railroad crossing, a bridge... then you went across the bridge and a railroad crossing. If you were doing any speed... you just lose it."
When Beverly and Traci showed us the exact spot their father died, Beverly pointed out something she finds encouraging. "The evergreen tree that grew up in the middle of the tracks... I say that's my dad..."

Despite impacting the train, it should be noted that Stout successfully guided his runaway bus past several cars that had already come to a stop at the crossing... saving the lives of the motorists inside.

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