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Aurora couple on O’Hare shuttle bus ‘landed in a pile of humans’ after crash

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Updated: October 1, 2014 6:29AM

Michael Bryant stared idly out the window of his O’Hare-bound shuttle bus Friday morning and noticed something odd: The driver appeared to be heading straight for a concrete median in the road.

Surely, he thought, the driver would turn the steering wheel. She didn’t, and at about 35 mph, the bus smashed into concrete, Bryant said.

“Next thing I knew, I was thrown off my feet and landed in a pile of humans all smashed up in the front of the bus,” said Bryant, 52, of Aurora who was on his way, with his wife, to Washington D.C.

His wife, Jill Bryant, found herself somewhere near the bottom of that human pile.

“I thought I was going to die,” she said later.

The 6:35 a.m. crash into a median separating lanes to the arrival and departure terminals sent 13 people to area hospitals, including an off-duty Chicago firefighter who stopped to help with the rescue. The cause of the crash remained under investigation, but witnesses said the driver appeared to make no attempt to avoid the concrete barrier.

Chicago firefighter Robert Gembala was listening to pop music in his vehicle, making his way to work at O’Hare, when he saw the crash just a few feet away. He quickly pulled over and ran to the bus — its steel carcass hissing and belching smoke.

Gembala found the bus driver, pinned in behind the steering wheel, and the passengers, their faces and hands smeared in blood, he said.

“A lot blood, a lot of what seemed like broken bones,” Gembala said, describing the scene as “surreal.”

Another firefighter, who broke a window to help free the driver, suffered back pain and was one of those sent to the hospital, fire officials said.

The Bryants, who were on their way to visit their son, spoke to the Chicago Sun-Times outside Resurrection Medical Center on the Northwest Side. The back of Michael Bryant’s head was caked in blood, and he said he’d sprained his back. Jill Bryant has stitches in two fingers. Both were covered in bruises.

The Bryants said they were thankful they’d been sitting at the rear of the bus.

“We’re very happy we can walk away from this,” Michael Bryant said.

The couple recalled hearing screaming and seeing people crying on the sidewalk, as they waited for help.

The crash caused lengthy traffic backups and prompted some anxious travelers to get out of cabs to begin walking along inbound lanes toward the airport.

The bus was owned by Delaware Car Rental, which has a $46 million, 10-year contract with the city to supply shuttle buses at O’Hare, records show.

The contract requires Delaware to run background checks on all drivers. Delaware owner Richard W. Smith declined to comment Friday, but his lawyer, Karen Conti, said the driver involved in the crash had passed the background check, a physical exam and random drug tests before the accident.

Conti said Delaware does not know what caused the accident.

The company is working with investigators, and Smith’s “prayers are with those injured in the accident,” Conti added.

Meanwhile, the Bryants, having missed their flight to the East Coast, planned to head home to recuperate.

Doctors told them their aches and pains would likely be much worse by Saturday.

“I suppose it’s good to have a long weekend to recover,” Michael Bryant said, as a cab arrived to take them home.

Contributing: Sun-Times Media Wire

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