Several passengers were injured and the driver is facing DUI charges after a tour bus en route to the Masters Tournament flipped over on I-20 East near Augusta.
The driver is believed to have been under the influence of drugs, not alcohol, a Georgia State Patrol trooper told Channel 2 Action News.
The bus, owned by the Jet Executive premium limousine service, was carrying 18 passengers when it ran off the side of the road and overcorrected into a median about 8:45 a.m. Thursday at mile marker No. 186, according to the GSP.
Steven Hoppenbrouwer, 61, of Gwinnett County, was charged with driving under the influence and failure to maintain lane.
He is accused of drifting off the interstate at least twice before the crash, Channel 2 reported.
When reached Thursday by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the limousine company refused to comment.
Seven people were taken to Augusta University Medical Center, with five in serious condition and two in fair condition, the sheriff’s office told ABC affiliate WJBF in Augusta. Three people, who initially walked away from the accident, went to AUMC later in the day and were treated and released.
Nine people were taken to Doctors Hospital, with one in critical condition, one in serious condition and one in fair condition, the hospital confirmed. The other patients were treated and released.
The passengers, most of whom were from the metro area, were picked up at a motel in Atlanta before the crash, Channel 2 reported.
Kip Plowman, a Doctors Hospital patient still bruised from the crash, described a chaotic scene building up to the crash.
Plowman, a partner with the Cherry Bekaert accounting firm, said the bus left about 6:30 a.m., but roughly 30 minutes later, just outside of Atlanta, the driver ran off the road and into the grass.
“(He) said it was a tire or some kind of metal in the road,” Plowman told a Doctors Hospital representative on video. “We didn’t really believe him. It seemed like we were wobbling a good bit as we went.”
Plowman then described the crash.
“We spun around one-and-a-half times,” he said. “The bus was facing backwards, then it had flipped on its side and we probably skidded for a good hundred yards.”
To make matters worse, the emergency roof wouldn’t open.
“We’re trying to get it open ... and the bus is filling up with smoke. The wheels are still spinning and the engine is running, so you don’t even know if it’s still in drive.”
Passengers eventually pushed a side window open, allowing Plowman to climb out and pull the emergency roof open so everyone could escape.
Debris, including passengers’ belongings, was scattered in the road.
Plowman was able to retrieve his cellphone, which was thrown from the crash site, and give passenger contact information to the GSP. He was also working to get shuttles back to Atlanta.
“I was feeling really bad for all of our guests who were injured (and) had been looking forward to an exciting day at the Masters,” he said.
All lanes were blocked Thursday morning, affecting traffic headed to the first round of the prestigious golf tournament. The incident was about 10 miles before the Augusta National exits.
But on the bright side, Plowman said: “It’s not the way we planned the day, but everybody is alive. We’re thankful for that.”
In other news: