, Gonaïves, Haiti, Mar 12 – A bus speeding away from a hit-and-run accident plowed into dozens of street musicians in northern Haiti on Sunday, killing 38 people, officials said.
Another 13 people were injured in the crash which took place just before 4 am (0900 GMT) in Gonaives, a city of some 300,000 people located about 150 kilometers (90 miles) northwest of the capital Port-au-Prince.
“We were in the band, having fun! And then the bus passed by crushing people,” says Jean-Renald Edouard, lying on an emergency room bed.
“He hit me on the hip, and I fell down hard. After that, everything went black,” said the 26-year-old man, his girlfriend at his bedside.
First, the bus plowed into two pedestrians, killing one and injuring the other, according to Marie-Alta Jean Baptiste, head of Haiti’s civil protection office.
The driver of the Blue Sky bus then rammed into three groups of street musicians as he tried to speed away, leaving a scene of ghastly carnage.
The number of injured was initially 17, but four victims later died at the hospital, the national police in Gonaives said.
Police were forced to control an angry crowd after the grisly incident. Drivers in Haiti who are involved in accidents rarely stop at the scene because they fear attack by local mobs seeking to extract vigilante justice.
“The people who were not victims of the accident tried to burn the bus with the passengers inside,” said Faustin Joseph, civic protection coordinator for the department of Artibonite, where Gonaives, the regional capital, is located.
The Blue Sky bus line, a private company offering long-distance routes, is an upscale option for travel in Haiti with modern, air-conditioned coaches.
Most Haitians generally travel on former American school buses which ply the roads, making frequent stops.
Authorities initially said they had detained the bus driver, but he had actually fled the scene, Gonaives traffic chief Jeudy Lisate told AFP. Police were still trying to identify him.
– Investigation –
It’s not known what caused the crash, which occurred on a straight stretch of a national road without any potholes.
On Sunday afternoon, a heavily damaged car was seen in a ditch on the side of the road, but the accident scene had otherwise been cleaned up.
In a statement Haitian President Jovenel Moise “expressed his deep sadness following the terrible accident.”
“The head of state conveys, on behalf of the whole government, his sincere condolences to the families and those close to the victims,” the statement read.
Moise called for “an investigation as soon as possible to shed light on this tragedy.”
After the first hit-and-run incident, the driver may have panicked and tried to run, one police officer said privately, not wanting to interfere with an ongoing investigation.
At La Providence hospital, family members stood by as many survivors of the accident were still in shock.
At least one witness said from his hospital bed that the bus did not have its lights on — which might have been part of the driver’s fatal escape bid.
One woman was hoping to keep the number of grandchildren killed in the tragedy to one.
Guerda Fenelus swatted flies to keep them from resting on the face of her unconscious grandson Peterson.
“One of my granddaughters was killed by this bus. And he is here. He still has not spoken — he is alive because he is on oxygen,” the 61-year-old woman said.
“I am suffering so much from seeing him that way. And it is his silence that kills me. If he spoke, I could have hope,” Fenelus sighed.