COLUMBIA COUNTY, Ga. — Authorities have charged a charter bus driver in a crash that injured more than a dozen people who were heading to the Masters Tournament.
The bus left Atlanta Thursday morning and crashed in Columbia County, just outside Augusta around 8:45 a.m.
Georgia State troopers told Channel 2 Action News that the bus driver, Steven Hoppenbrouwer, was high on drugs at the time of the crash.
NewsChopper 2 flew over the scene along Interstate 20 just as ambulances took all 18 passengers to area hospitals.
Troopers said the 61-year-old driver drifted into the median, overcorrected and then flipped the Jet Executive Limousine motor coach onto its side.
“They were coming from a motel in Atlanta, and they were just out to have a good day here at Augusta National and tragically this happened,” said Georgia State Sgt. Chris Wright.
Passengers told troopers that Hoppenbrouwer nearly lost control of the bus two times before the crash, but he told them he was avoiding debris in the road.
"We spun around one and a half times 'cause the bus was facing backwards. Then it had flipped on its side. We probably skidded for a good hundred yards," passenger Kip Plowman told Channel 2's Wendy Halloran.
When the crash happened, Wright said almost everyone in the bus, except Hoppenbrouwer got hurt.
“The bus is filling up with smoke, the tires are still spinning, the engine is still running so you don’t even know if it’s still in drive,” Plowman said.
Plowman said the emergency roof would not open, so they started kicking the glass windows to get out.
Plowman said he climbed out and pulled the emergency top off the emergency exit to help injured, panicked passengers get out a narrow passageway.
“People started climbing through but, you know, it was like an 18-inch porthole," Plowman said.
EMS took all 18 passengers to Augusta-area hospitals. Troopers said none of the injuries are life-threatening.
Troopers did a field sobriety test on Hoppenbrouwer at the crash scene.
“We determined from those tests, along with other factors involved with this accident, that he should be charged,” Wright said.
“When the call came in today, we immediately began to assume the worse,” said Augusta University Medical Center Dr. Phillip Coule.
The most critical patients came to Augusta University Medical Center. Doctors there said they’re ready for just this kind of crash during Masters week.
“Of course, this time of year, we’re always concerned about this type of incident,” Coule said. “We have had previous bus accidents during Masters week, and of course, we know this can happen at any time.”
Most of passengers on the bus have been treated and released. Troopers have not yet released the names of those passengers.
© 2020 Cox Media Group