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Bus Passengers Recall Accident

November 28, 1998

SEATTLE (AP) _ Passengers whose bus plunged 50 feet off a busy Seattle bridge after their driver was shot recalled Saturday the terrifying series of events that claimed three lives.

Moments before the bus plummeted off the Aurora Bridge and toward an apartment building Friday afternoon, passenger Regina King was dozing.

``When I woke up, I heard a guy yell, `Oh, my God.′ The bus was going across the freeway, and then over (it),″ she said Saturday from a hospital, where she was in satisfactory condition. ``I was hollering `Jesus!′ My whole life just flashed in front of me. I’m thinking, `I’m waiting for us to hit the water.′ I just knew we were all dead.″

Another passenger, Laethan Wene, recalled thinking to himself, ``My God, it’s going to be like an airplane crash.″

Meanwhile Saturday, authorities were investigating the possibility that the crash was the result of a ``possible murder-suicide,″ said police spokeswoman Christie-Lynne Bonner.

The driver, Mark F. McLaughlin, 44, was shot in the arm or shoulder, and died after being thrown from the 60-foot bus. Among the two passengers who died was a man who may have shot himself in the head, Bonner said.

``We do have information from some witnesses that they ... saw this man shoot the bus driver,″ Bonner said. The motive remained unknown.

The other passenger who died was identified as Herman Liebelt, 69, who suffered head injuries and a pelvic fracture, hospital officials said.

Nineteen passengers remained hospitalized, one in critical condition. No one on the ground was hurt.

Wene, 24, said he thought he heard two ``popping noises″ before the bus lost control and veered through the bridge guardrail. When the bus hit the ground, Wene scrambled out the rear door.

``I just ran,″ he said. ``I ran all the way to Safeway. I was a little shook up. I just didn’t want to be around all that.″

He eventually was treated for minor injuries at a hospital and released.

Seconds before the accident, an open-air bus loaded with tourists had driven by the apartment house yard where the hinged Metro bus’ two 30-foot sections landed together.

``This is a busy, urban neighborhood,″ said Judy Jurji, who was getting mail from her porch when the bus fell across the street. ``It’s just a miracle that more people were not hurt.″

Survivors said the attacker was a passenger sitting across the aisle from the driver in the seat directly behind the front door. The attack came without warning, said Rick Walsh, director of King County’s Metro Transit division.

``There was no previous conversation,″ Walsh said. ``No tension was apparent, and ... he pulled out a gun and shot the driver.″

Lacy Olsen, 13, who was headed downtown on the bus to get her eyebrow pierced, was sitting not far away.

``I saw two flashes and heard a loud pop-pop,″ Olsen said. ``I saw the bus driver and his blood.″

Then the bus went out of control. ``It like happened in 30 seconds,″ she said. ``Everybody was screaming and crying.″

She said she didn’t hear any words exchanged between the driver and the gunman.

Dan Hardesty was on the front porch of his apartment with friends when they heard the crash and saw chunks of the concrete railing come flying at them. Then the bus flew over their heads, hit the building and landed in Hardesty’s garden.

``It just plummeted right over,″ he said.

Hardesty ran inside to check on his brother in an adjoining apartment. He was OK. Then Hardesty called 911. The line was busy since so many people were calling all at once.

One of Hardesty’s friends on the porch, Sara Krause, was struck in the back by a piece of debris but not hurt.

``We heard the bus hit the rail. We just scattered and it hit the ground,″ she said. ``I saw legs and twisted bodies. Then we just heard screaming. People screaming for help. There was blood everywhere.″

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported the attacker was found near the bus with a fatal gunshot wound to his head and a gun that had been fired was nearby.

Authorities confirmed a gun was recovered at the crash scene and a second handgun _ unfired _ was recovered from the dead passenger’s body at the hospital, Bonner said.

The long bus with a central, billowed hinge was ripped apart by the fall. Residents braved shredded metal and spilled diesel fuel to help bleeding victims.

The bus fell at the north end of the big Aurora Bridge, which is a landmark in the funky Fremont neighborhood, which is a popular shopping and sightseeing area. Under the bridge is a sculpture of a troll, grasping a real Volkswagen Bug.

The bridge, a four-lane span of state Route 99, is one of Seattle’s busiest thoroughfares. It rises hundreds of feet above the ship canal at the west end of Lake Union. The accident came near the bridge’s return to ground level on the north side.

The crash backed up traffic for miles in both directions on the busy post-Thanksgiving shopping day.

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