1 dead, 43 injured in Gilmer County tour bus crash

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GILMER COUNTY, Ga. - Multiple agencies are investigating a deadly crash involving a tour bus and a tractor-trailer Thursday in Gilmer County.

The sheriff's department tells Channel 2 Action News that there were 48 people on the bus at the time of the crash.

Authorities say the bus driver was killed and 43 people on the bus were injured in the crash. Forty-two people were taken to the hospital by ground and one by air. Georgia State Patrol says all the people on the bus have non-life-threatening injuries.

The bus driver was identified as 66-year-old Richard Rees, of Marietta. The tractor trailer driver was identified as 56-year-old Charles Howard, of Concord, North Carolina.


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The husband of a crash survivor tells Channel 2 Action News the bus was headed to a casino in North Carolina.

Officials said most of the passengers on the bus were elderly.

"It's just heartbreaking. It's really heartbreaking to see that," witness Angela Newberry said.

The sheriff’s office posted on its Facebook page that the crash happened on Highway 515 at the intersection of Whitestone Road.

Witnesses said they saw first responders cut the windows off the bus to rescue the passengers.

"Everyone's adrenaline is up when you get to a scene of this magnitude, but thankfully these folks are seasoned and they got to work right away with what they needed to do," Gilmer County Public Safety Director Tony Pritchard said. 

Preliminary investigation shows the truck driver was at fault, according to GSP. Troopers say he was making a left turn onto Highway 515 southbound and paused for traffic, leaving his cargo load across the northbound lanes. The bus driver, who was northbound, crashed into the back of the truck.

Howard was not injured and now faces charges.

Channel 2 investigative reporter Aaron Diamant questioned Howard, who did not comment after the wreck.

The truck is owned by Polcon Tile & Terrazo out of Charlotte, North Carolina. 

U.S. Department of Transportation safety records online show that in January 2015, inspectors issued two unsafe driving violations to Polcon drivers.

One was a lane restriction violation in South Carolina, and another for failure to obey a traffic control device in Georgia.

The bus is owned by Marietta-based Greatime Getaways.

Federal records we found show no unsafe driving violations but six maintenance violations, including one for "brake connections with leaks/constrictions."

Georgia State Patrol is investigating whether any of that played a part in the wreck.

Meanwhile, authorities are warning drivers to pay attention.

"Anybody traveling in this area this time of year, we just urge you to take extreme caution, pay close attention,” Tony Card said. 

"It's just a real bad wreck. I haven't seen something like this before," witness Justin Rogers said.

Gilmer County Fire and Rescue said there is limited sight distance in the area, which has led to several crashes. 

All northbound lanes and one southbound lane were closed as troopers investigate the scene.