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Church Bus Plunges Down Mountainside; 1 Dead, 29 Hurt

June 27, 1987

BLAIRSVILLE, Ga. (AP) _ A church bus filled with teen-agers ran off a road and plunged 50 feet down a mountainside Friday, killing a 14-year-old girl and injuring 29 other people, authorities said.

The brakes on the bus gave out as it was coming down a steep incline about 3 p.m. on the Richard Russell Scenic Highway, a winding, two-lane road, said Union County Sheriff Tom Duncan.

The bus was one of two carrying youngsters from the First Baptist Church of Winter Haven, Fla., from a weeklong stay at a youth camp in the northeastern Georgia mountains.

Some victims were trapped for as long as two hours, and worried parents gathered at the church in the hope of getting more information about the injured.

″It happened so fast I didn’t really see what happened,″ said 16-year-old Shellie Bruce of Winter Haven, who suffered cuts and bruises. ″I looked out the window and I saw all these trees passing.″

The Rev. Frank Brooks, who was driving the bus, was thrown clear of the wreckage. Brooks, 36, a youth pastor at the church, was in critical condition at Kennestone Hospital in suburban Atlanta, said hospital spokeswoman Dana Jackson.

The dead girl was identified as Angela Jones, said Civil Defense spokesman Ron DeLong.

The youngsters had attended a youth Bible conference at the Georgia Baptist Assembly in nearby Toccoa. Those on the second bus did not see the accident, but arrived seconds later to find their friends in the crushed vehicle.

″It was tangled up like a fishing line,″ said Georgia State Patrol Trooper Mack Mason. ″You had to start at one end and unravel it. It was caved in so bad, you just had to more or less crawl through it like a tunnel.″

Mason described the road as a 3.1-mile downgrade.

″No tractor-trailer trucks go across that way. It’s too steep for them. If you don’t know how to brake, how to gear your vehicle down, your brakes will never stand it.″

Many of the injured had cuts, bruises and broken bones, and one girl suffered a broken neck, said Patsy Efird, director of nursing at Union County General Hospital in Blairsville, about 14 miles away.

Most of the injured initially were taken to Union County General, but the most seriously injured later were transfered to other hospitals. Ten people were admitted to Union County and 18 were transferred and admitted to other hospitals, Mrs. Efird said. Only one of the victims was treated and released, she said.

A 15-year-old girl was being treated at Emory University’s Henrietta Egleston Hospital for ″critical injuries and some fractures,″ said spokeswoman Andrea Mise.

Three teen-agers were admitted to Scottish Rite Hospital in suburban Atlanta; two were in stable condition at Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Gainsville; and four others were in stable condition at Towns County General Hospital in Hiawassee.

A woman who answered the telephone at the church but refused to give her name said the group was on an outing in the mountains. She declined further comment.

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