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How a flight diverted by the nor’easter became a 9-hour bus ride — and left two travelers hospitalized

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A monitor shows canceled flights March 2 at LaGuardia Airport in New York. (Amr Alfiky/Reuters)

It was supposed to be a straightforward, three-hour plane ride from Minneapolis to New York.

But an American Airlines flight diverted to Baltimore by a massive East Coast storm[1] last week morphed into a nightmarish travel experience, one woman said, after passengers were put on a bathroom-less bus to complete the last leg of their trip — only to sit on clogged roads for nearly 12 hours, ultimately ending up where they started.

And that was hardly the most severe aspect of the ordeal.

For the first nine hours, the bus covered a mere 40 miles and made only one rest stop — where two of the travelers who got off in search of food were struck by an oncoming vehicle and suffered severe injuries, according to Stefani Kuo, a passenger on American Airlines flight 4664.

The injured couple, tourists from China, spoke limited English, and both were hospitalized with serious head trauma, police said.

Meanwhile, the driver of the airline-chartered bus appeared ready to leave the rest stop without checking that all passengers were onboard, Kuo said. It wasn’t until she expressed concern over the two missing Chinese passengers, who Kuo had met on the bus when they sought out her aid, that the driver learned they had been involved in the accident, she added.

The bus eventually returned to Baltimore, nearly half a day after it had departed from there, because a closed bridge prevented it from going farther on Interstate 95, Kuo said. Even then, it fell to her to inform American Airlines that the Chinese couple had been seriously injured, she said.

“No one had told them anything about their condition or anything,” Kuo told The Washington Post Monday. “It didn’t really hit me until I got back how awful it was.”

American Airlines spokeswoman Michelle Mohr confirmed that two of its passengers were involved in an accident Friday while being transported by bus from Baltimore to New York, but declined to name the couple.

The ordeal started Friday, as a nor’easter was bearing down on the East Coast[2], leading to hundreds of flight cancellations in and out of New York[3] and misery[4] for some passengers in the air.

On Friday afternoon, Kuo, a recent college graduate, was trying to return home to New York when her flight was diverted[5] to Baltimore Washington International Airport (BWI) after a turbulent, failed landing attempt at John F. Kennedy International Airport. Upon deplaning at BWI, she said passengers were told to board a charter bus that American Airlines said would be the only way to get back to New York, about 200 miles away.

Information about the buses was scant, as confused and weary travelers from multiple American flights jockeyed for seats, Kuo said.

“The buses were filled with flights from all over … from Detroit, from Nashville, from Minneapolis,” she said. “No one was really directing anyone.”

About two hours into the bus’s slow trip up I-95, an older Chinese couple approached Kuo: “Are you Chinese?” they asked her.

Kuo nodded and they seemed relieved. They told her they had been on a redirected flight from Nashville and were on their way to visit their son in New York. Would she mind translating what was going on? Kuo agreed.

She said the couple stayed fairly quiet throughout the trip, except to occasionally relay their whereabouts to their son.

Meanwhile, the bus trip dragged on. Traffic on the interstate had ground to a halt, in large part due to violent winds that had uprooted trees and debris, caused traffic accidents and closed multiple roadways along the eastern corridor.

To make matters worse, there were no bathrooms on the bus; anyone who needed to go was forced to run off the vehicle as it inched forward, relieve themselves on the side of the highway, then jump back on board before it moved again.

“Everyone was burned out because there were no bathrooms,” Kuo said. “Everyone was freaking out about their cellphone because we didn’t have any battery.”

The bus had departed BWI around 2:45 p.m. Friday. Just before 11 p.m., it made its first and only official rest stop in the parking lot of a McDonald’s in Aberdeen, Md. By then, there was no rain or hail outside, but it was so windy and dark that she could barely see, Kuo said.

The Chinese couple accompanied Kuo to the McDonald’s but found it packed with other travelers who had been stalled by traffic conditions. They then went to an Applebee’s across the street to use the restroom but found that restaurant crowded as well.

Finally, Kuo said she would go to an adjacent ShopRite to pick up some food; the Chinese couple said they would return to the bus and wait for her there.

Kuo reached the ShopRite, only to discover it was closed. On her way back to the bus, she could make out a grim scene: Two bodies lay face down in the road, with a police car nearby. She willed herself to look away, she said, not realizing the victims were the Chinese couple she had befriended that day.

Back on board the bus, however, a terrible feeling overcame Kuo as the driver prepared to leave the parking lot without a roll call.

“I just kept looking at their seat because they never came back,” she said. Kuo said she told the driver to stop, then ran off the bus and returned to the scene she had just passed. By then, the road was empty again. The responding officer told Kuo that the victims had indeed been an older Chinese couple, and that they had been taken to a hospital with serious injuries.

Kuo gave the police officer her phone number, explained that she had only met the couple, and asked him to call her with any news.

“I wanted to make sure they were okay,” she said.

Then she boarded the bus “in hysterics.”

“The bus was confused, the bus driver was shocked. But then we left. No one contacted American Airlines,” Kuo wrote in a subsequent blog post about her experience. At this point, the bus driver had decided to turn around and return to BWI, unable to go farther on the interstate because of the closed bridge.

“When we got back to the airport, no one took care of [the Chinese couple’s] belongings,” Kuo wrote. “I picked up the backpack and carry on they had on the bus. When we got off, their checked baggage was just left on the sidewalk. No one took care of it, so I did. I took all of their belongings along with mine and went into the airport where I tried for 15 minutes to tell someone, “Two of your passengers were run over by a truck.’ ”

Cpl. Craig Gentile, the Aberdeen police officer who responded to the scene, said he was only able to identify the victims as Chinese nationals because of their passports. It took him nearly four hours to reach someone at Chinese consulates and the embassy in Washington so he could contact the couple’s next of kin — and it might have taken longer had Kuo not spoken on behalf of the couple, he said.

Representatives for the Chinese Embassy did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.

The driver who struck the couple stopped immediately to render aid and was not found to be impaired, Aberdeen police spokesman Will Reiber said.

“The pedestrians were struck while wearing dark clothing as they were crossing the roadway in a non-crosswalk area,” Reiber said, adding that the storm and time of the accident had led to “pretty much blackout conditions.”

Reiber said he could not release a copy of the incident report yet, but said both victims were in serious but stable condition as of Monday afternoon.

American Airlines’s Mohr said the airline occasionally charters buses to help complete trips when flying passengers is not possible, for some reason, and that “several factors” contributed to the team’s decision to charter a bus Friday during the nor’easter, including “availability of hotel rooms” and the distance. She noted the airline is not typically responsible for providing lodging when a flight is canceled or delayed because of weather.

“What we were focused on was of course getting our folks to their final destination as quickly as possible,” Mohr told The Post. “Travel ended up being a lot more difficult than anyone had anticipated, unfortunately.”

Mohr said she was not certain how the airline was notified of the accident and also said the bus company should answer questions about how the driver should have kept track of passengers. She did not name the bus company.

“What we did was we immediately deployed specially trained members of our Care Team to assist the couple and their son who came down to see them. So we’re working closely with the family to make sure they have the support and care that they need during this difficult time,” Mohr said. “As soon as we learned of this, we jumped into action.”

Kuo has contradicted the airline’s account, however, saying American would not have known about the couple’s accident had she not demanded to speak with an airline employee at BWI airport around 1 a.m. Saturday.

“He looked concerned, and he ushered me back into a room,” Kuo said. “He didn’t know what hospital they were at … I kept saying, I have all their luggage. I can help if they need translating … I seemed to know more than anyone else, but no one [at American] knew anything.”

Kuo said her conscience pushed her to keep calling Baltimore hospitals, until she had found where the couple had been taken. At the very least, she would deliver their bags.

“I thought, maybe I’ll just be a hassle to be around,” Kuo said.

Kuo said the airline offered to pay for a one-way taxi ride to the hospital. It was her — not a ‘Care Team’ member — who was the first to arrive, she noted. The husband recognized her right away and seemed grateful, asking if she help translate. Kuo stayed for about 40 more minutes, as the couple waited for their son to make his way down from New York.

It wasn’t until she finally got back home to New York on Saturday afternoon — almost exactly 24 hours after she was scheduled to do so — that Kuo had time to file a complaint with the airline. An American employee called her and offered a $500 gift voucher, she said. (The amount was later raised to $700, she noted.) Kuo shared images of her email correspondence with The Post.

On Saturday night, Kuo sat down and started writing a blog post about the experience, saying she wanted to bring attention to what she calls the airline’s irresponsibility. She deleted the post Sunday out of privacy concerns for the family of the injured couple, who didn’t want their names released. But she remains “infuriated,” she said.

“Most of us have had to file complaints before American Airlines reached out to us, which is pretty atrocious,” Kuo said. “I think they’re trying to avoid it as much as they can. Because they ‘got most of us to our destination’ — but at what cost?”

Read more:

‘Pretty much everyone on the plane threw up’: Friday was a rough day to fly.[9]

A man tried to board a flight wearing everything he packed. British Airways gave him the boot.[10]

Woman gives birth on Spirit Airlines flight, does not incur extra fees[11]

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Houston Recalls Legacy of George Bush, Its Lone Star Yankee and Senior Booster

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HOUSTON — Inside the airport that bears his name, George Herbert Walker Bush looks, at a distance, as if he’s wearing a cape.

An 8-foot-tall bronze statue at the Houston airport shows Mr. Bush, who , Barbara Bush[4], who died in April at the age of 92. After Mr. Bush’s death on Friday, Houston lost its two most famous residents in the span of seven months.

“George H.W. Bush served with valor and integrity as the 41st president of the United States,” Houston’s mayor, Sylvester Turner, said in a statement. “But to Houstonians he was one of our most esteemed and relatable neighbors. He and his wife, Barbara Bush, were our sports teams’ biggest fans, and boosters for everything Houston.”

This was the man whose most memorable quote in years had to do with men’s hosiery. In 2012, as his fondness for wearing bright eye-catching socks was going strong, he explained that he simply “likes a good sock.” At his wife’s funeral at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston, Mr. Bush wore a pair of socks with a colorful stack-of-books design, a tribute to Mrs. Bush’s advocacy work for family literacy.

In Houston and its surrounding suburbs, Mr. Bush had not only an airport in his name but a park, a high school and a few more life-size statues. Above Buffalo Bayou, a bronze statue of Mr. Bush looks out into the distance with his hand in his pocket, gazing at, of all things, James A. Baker III, the former secretary of state and Mr. Bush’s tennis partner at the Houston Country Club. The statues of the two close friends face each other in the downtown park, separated by about 100 yards, in Houston’s oddest and longest-running staring contest.

“All I can do now,” Mr. Bush told The New York Times in 2011 about the statue, “is hope that the pigeons will be kind and gentle.”

Charles C. Foster, a Houston immigration lawyer and a longtime friend of the Bush family, came up with the idea for the George H.W. Bush Monument, which was unveiled in 2004. Mr. Foster recalled the day he sat in Mr. Bush’s office at 10000 Memorial Drive and asked for his blessing for the project.

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Mr. Bush in 1970, when he was a congressman.CreditAssociated Press

“He looked at me and he sort of looked up at the ceiling,” Mr. Foster said. “He pointed to the ceiling and said, ‘Shouldn’t you wait until I’m up there?’ And then he said, pointing downward, ‘Or perhaps down there?’”

In 1990, Mr. Bush helped turn the eyes of the world to Houston.

As president, he brought thousands of reporters and foreign dignitaries to Houston that summer for the Economic Summit of Industrialized Nations, an annual gathering of the world’s economic powers. The summits had been held in a number of global cities — London, Tokyo, Paris, Venice — and Mr. Bush made the case that his adopted hometown belonged among such world-class company.

Houston was scrappier back then. The city was rebounding from an oil bust in the 1980s that crippled the economy, and it tried hard to present its best, and cleanest, face to the cameras and the visitors, picking up millions of pounds of trash, repaving roads and enlisting the aid of 12,000 volunteers.

“That was huge for Houston,” Mr. Foster said of the 1990 summit. “When the president had a chance, he could have picked some mountain retreat. But he picked his hometown. He was well aware of the chip on our shoulders that we didn’t feel like Houston got the recognition that it should.”

Now, with 2.3 million residents (compared with 1.6 million in 1990), Houston is the fourth-largest city in America, known as much for its diversity as its energy-capital status. George Bush High School, part of the Fort Bend school district, is 43 percent Hispanic, 38 percent black, 12 percent Asian and 4 percent white. More than 90 languages and dialects are spoken in the district.

Early Saturday morning in the upscale Tanglewood area, Houstonians paused at the gates at South Post Oak Lane and North West Oak Drive — the entrance to the gated community where Mr. Bush lived. Someone draped an American flag in the center of the gates, decorated for the holidays with Christmas wreaths.

Shirley Matthews, 66, a lifelong Houstonian who lives nearby, walked up and took a picture of the memorial for her mother. “He was just a good person,” she said. “He wasn’t perfect. But it’s family, and we love each other.”

References

  1. ^ died at his home here on Friday (www.nytimes.com)
  2. ^ Read the obituary of George H.W. Bush. (www.nytimes.com)
  3. ^ the funeral for his wife (www.nytimes.com)
  4. ^ Barbara Bush (www.nytimes.com)

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A Close Race, a Mysterious Ballot and Control of Alaska’s House at Stake

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With a crucial legislative seat in Alaska teetering toward a tie earlier this month, lawmakers in Juneau braced for the possibility of a coin toss deciding control of the state’s House of Representatives. Then a mysterious extra ballot emerged that threw the process into further disarray.

Amid several counts, the latest coming on Friday afternoon, a single ballot drew scrutiny across the state.

The state’s review board certified the race, between Kathryn Dodge, a Democrat, and Bart LeBon, a Republican, as a tie earlier this week, with exactly 2,661 votes going to each candidate. The extra ballot, for Ms. Dodge, could have settled the race for the Fairbanks-area district seat.

Later on Friday, the mystery appeared to have been solved — but the standoff over who won the election continued.

Samantha Miller, a spokeswoman for the state elections office, said that workers at Fairbanks’s No. 6 precinct told officials that a woman had come into the polling place to request a special needs ballot on behalf of her husband, who was outside in a vehicle.

The woman came back into the precinct. Her husband had made a mistake, she told the precinct worker, and needed a new ballot. She left behind the one he had already marked, thus making it a spoiled ballot.

The precinct chair told the worker who took the spoiled ballot to put it into a secrecy sleeve, “and that they would deal with it later in the day,” Ms. Miller said.

But instead, the spoiled ballot was put into a compartment with other questioned ballots.

Typically, Ms. Miller said, spoiled ballots are destroyed once they are accounted for. So, because the mystery ballot was found to be spoiled, it will not be counted, she said.

Still, that left the question of what happens if the recount that began on Friday afternoon ends in a tie — again.

Ms. Miller said that both candidates had five days to file a legal challenge to the results. And if the court decided the recount went as it should have, and the race was still a tie?

The prevailing candidate would be determined “by lot,” Ms. Miller said. “It could be a coin toss or some other way of deciding, as long as it’s random.”

It would not be the first time an Alaska race was determined by coin toss.

In 2006, State Representative Bryce Edgmon[1], a Democrat from Dillingham, beat the incumbent, Carl Moses. Mr. Moses’s name was drawn, so he got to make the call: Heads.

The state’s elections director at the time flipped an Alaska Mint medallion — the side with a walrus being heads and the side with the state seal being tails. It landed state seal side up.

Ms. Miller would not speculate about when the recount would be complete, but said both candidates were present, along with observers and officials.

Mr. LeBon did not respond to requests for comment on Friday.

Sara Harriger, a spokeswoman for Ms. Dodge, said in a statement that during Friday’s recount, one additional vote was found for Ms. Dodge and a challenged ballot was allowed for her opponent, Mr. LeBon, which meant that the tally stood at 2,662 apiece. Still tied.

Ms. Dodge said in a statement that she believed every legally cast ballot should be counted. “I just want everyone watching this process to take away a sense of confidence in our democratic system and a commitment to cast their votes in future races,” she said, “and knowing that their votes will matter.”

Ms. Dodge had said earlier on Friday that legal action “unfortunately” seemed probable.

“It’s certainly not what any of us expect when we set out to campaign, to find ourselves in a squeaker of this nature,” she said. “I hope we don’t have a coin toss. I don’t know quite what to say, but it doesn’t feel like it’s an appropriate way to settle an election.”

In Alaska, the repercussions of this race will be felt into the next legislative session, though party control of the House in Juneau will be far from clear-cut.

Political coalitions in Juneau do not always come down to party-line votes like in other state houses. Even if Ms. Dodge wins the race, Democrats would still not have an outright majority, and so members of the House will still be tasked with negotiating a coalition majority.

References

  1. ^ Bryce Edgmon (akleg.gov)

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3 Killed After Pickup Truck Fleeing Border Patrol Hits Tire Spikes and Crashes

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Three people in a packed pickup truck were killed on Thursday afternoon after the driver ran over tire spikes and crashed on a Southern California highway while trying to flee Border Patrol officers, the authorities said.

The officers turned on their vehicle’s emergency lights and began chasing the pickup truck on Interstate 8, near Boulevard, Calif., at around 4:20 p.m., according to the United States Customs and Border Protection. The authorities said they believed that the pickup truck had been illegally driven over the southern border and had crashed through an “iron bar vehicle barrier.” They said they identified it by matching a piece that was missing from the truck to one agents had spotted on the ground near the border, though they did not elaborate.

The pickup truck reached speeds of over 100 miles per hour, weaving between cars and bypassing others on the side of the highway, before it drove over spikes that the Border Patrol had placed on the road, the California Highway Patrol said. About a mile later, the truck spun out of control and flipped over, ejecting the nine people who were riding in the truck’s bed, the authorities said.

A woman inside the truck, who was not wearing a seatbelt, was killed, as were two people riding in the bed, the police said. Seven people who had “multiple serious injuries” were taken to the hospital, a spokesman for Customs and Border Protection said.

The driver, a United States citizen whose name was not released, was the only person wearing a seatbelt, the agency said. The California Highway Patrol took the man into custody, but it was not clear whether he had been charged. The identities of the passengers in the truck have not been released either.

“The investigation into the smuggling incident is ongoing,” the spokesman said in an email, “and the Border Patrol is fully cooperating with the CHP in their investigation of the collision.”

About an hour after the crash, the Border Patrol stopped another vehicle that officers believed had crossed over the border with the pickup truck, the agency said. The driver of that car was also arrested.

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