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Runaway bus kills one, injures three

October 3, 1997

NEW YORK (AP) _ Plowing into cars and spreading terror as it roared down Fifth Avenue, an out-of-control city bus struck and killed a delivery man and injured three other people before crashing into a china store. One of the injured, a bicyclist, was critically hurt.

``It was exactly like watching the movie `Speed.′ The bus was plowing into everything,″ said Rosemary Gass, a visitor from West Bloomfield, Mich., who was having breakfast at a coffee shop when the bus bounced wildly through seven blocks of midtown Manhattan Thursday morning.

The driver, 56-year-old Charles Alston, had a history of medical problems and police said he suffered a ``possible heart attack or seizure.″ He was hospitalized in stable condition.

The bus roared off its route about 8:45 a.m. Instead of turning onto 34th Street, it sped down the avenue _ sideswiping another bus and hitting a car and a taxicab as it went.

At 28th Street it hit the bicyclist, the delivery man and an empty cab, dragging it half a block. Then the bus, which was carrying four passengers, veered into the sidewalk and crashed into a Pfaltzgraff store, pinning Alston behind the wheel.

``It was barreling like a bat out of hell from three blocks away,″ said Patsy DiBernardo of Seaford, another witness at the coffee shop.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority said Alston, a bus driver for 17 years, had an unremarkable driving record but had been suspended twice in the 1980s for drug and alcohol abuse. Police ruled out alcohol as a possible cause in Thursday’s accident.

Alston’s stepdaughter, Angel Williams, told The New York Times in a story today that he had epilepsy, throat cancer and severe asthma. She said he ``has seizures about three times a year where he blacks out.″

The MTA, however, said there was nothing in his file to suggest Alston had epilepsy.

The dead delivery man was identified as Alexis Castro, 39.

The bicyclist, 38-year-old Neil MacFarquhar, is a reporter for The New York Times and a former reporter for The Associated Press in Jerusalem and Kuwait until 1995. MacFarquhar suffered broken bones and was in critical but stable condition following surgery for internal injuries.

The helmet MacFarquhar was wearing was shattered, but he apparently suffered no serious head injuries.

The other two injured people were treated at a hospital and released.

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