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13 Injured in Angel Bus Crash : Accident: Rodgers is most seriously hurt in New Jersey wreck during early-morning hours. Bus driver is cited for careless driving.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Angel Manager Buck Rodgers suffered a broken right elbow, right rib and left knee early Thursday when one of two buses carrying the team from New York to Baltimore swerved off the road and into a grove of trees along the New Jersey Turnpike in Deptford Township, N.J., about 20 miles from Philadelphia.

Rodgers, 53, was trapped in the twisted, crumpled metal of the bus for seven to nine minutes before paramedics pulled him out through the windshield and transported him to Underwood Memorial Hospital in Woodbury, N.J. He was transferred to Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia, where he was listed in fair condition late Thursday. Rodgers was scheduled to return to Los Angeles Saturday by air ambulance and will undergo surgery to repair his elbow Monday at Centinela Hospital Medical Center.

He was the most seriously injured of the 12 players or staff members, plus the driver, who were treated. Team orthopedist Lewis Yocum was to go to Baltimore to examine injured players.

“It was a nightmare to go through, but it could have been a tragedy,” said shortstop Gary DiSarcina, who was bruised and had a sore back after being jolted out of his seat and wedged under a seat across the aisle. “We went over some bumps, like we were going over reflectors on the road, and I remember hearing branches hit the sides of the bus. I kept waiting not to hear those branches.

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“It was like being in a big washing machine or a heavy-duty dryer, just thrashing around. Then it got real dark, and all I heard was moaning and groaning and there was luggage and food all over the place. It seemed like it took an hour to realize where we were.”

Third base coach John Wathan, who managed the Kansas City Royals for four years, will replace Rodgers beginning tonight, when the Angels open a three-game series against the Baltimore Orioles. Rodgers probably will be out for several weeks.

“We went back from the hospital to collect our luggage, and we saw the bus and it was scary,” said Wathan, who was sitting in the fourth row on the right side of the bus. Rodgers was in front. “It was dark when it happened, and it was scary to see in the light of day how the front of the bus was pushed back right to Buck’s seat. There was no front door. It’s amazing he got out.”

Infielder Alvin Davis, traveling secretary Frank Sims and head trainer Ned Bergert remained in Underwood Hospital Thursday night. Eight players or staff members were released after being treated for cuts and bruises. Davis and Bergert were being tested for possible kidney damage, and Sims had cracked ribs and a possible punctured lung.

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Bergert was hailed as a hero for tending to others’ injuries before allowing his own to be treated. Pitchers Chuck Finley, Jim Abbott and Bert Blyleven, who were in the second bus, also were praised for helping pull the wounded out of the wreckage.

“I saw Chuck Finley running around the bus grabbing people,” DiSarcina said, “and the thought crossed my mind, ‘Chuck wasn’t on this bus.’ ”

Said Wathan: “The great thing was how quickly Finley and Blyleven and Jimmy Abbott helped get me off the bus. There was no panic. . . . I felt we had a close team anyway. Maybe this will get us closer together.”

Eighteen people were on the bus. A second bus, carrying 19 players, coaches and staff members, followed closely. Hubie Brooks and Luis Polonia were not with the team, having received permission to spend Thursday’s day off in New York.

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None of the players were wearing seat belts. Only the driver is required to wear a seat belt, according to New Jersey state law.

“It’s a wonder we weren’t all killed,” said Sims, who was sitting in the second row behind the driver. “We were tossed around like dolls. Bailing out of airplanes (as a World War II pilot) was simple compared to that.”

Bullpen catcher Rick Turner had a gash under his left arm that required 26 stitches, and infielder Bobby Rose will be on the 15-day disabled list after sustaining a severely sprained right ankle. Infielder Luis Sojo was the only replacement summoned from the Angels’ triple-A farm team at Edmonton, but others might be if Davis’ injury is serious or if other injuries become more serious.

Roving minor league instructor Chuck Hernandez was to join the team to help Turner and bullpen coach Ken Macha--who sustained cuts on his forehead--with the pitching staff. Hitting instructor Rod Carew had whiplash but said it wouldn’t prevent him from fulfilling his duties.

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“We’re all pretty lucky. There’s a lot of people saying prayers today,” said Rose, who was sitting in the sixth row of the bus on the left side. “I was sitting in the hospital thinking about how lucky we are, and I opened up my wallet and started looking at (pictures of) my kids. I could have never seen them again. It could have been all over.”

The bus left Yankee Stadium, where the Angels had lost their third consecutive game, shortly before midnight Wednesday. The accident occurred on a dry road at about 1:50 a.m. when bus driver Carl Venetz, who was transporting 18 of the 37-member traveling party, apparently swerved to avoid a recapped tire left in the road by the truck traveling just ahead of the bus.

An investigation of the accident found neither debris nor any skid marks that would have resulted from applying the brakes to avoid any debris.

New Jersey state trooper Nick Colucci said late Thursday night that Venetz was issued a careless driving summons that carries a $66 fine in New Jersey. A preliminary report said Venetz lost control of the bus, which traveled 175 feet along the roadway, straddled a guardrail and went 250 feet more before striking a tree and turning onto its right side at a 60-degree angle.

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Venetz, 38, of Stanhope, N.J., is employed by Kevah Konner Bus Lines of Pine Hill, N.J. Maureen Sczpanski, a spokeswoman for the New Jersey Division of Motor Vehicles in Trenton, said Venetz had five points on his license--12 points would result in a suspension--and has had five speeding violations. However, she said it wasn’t clear whether they occurred while Venetz was driving a bus or his own vehicle.

Sims said he heard Venetz speaking with the driver of the other bus on the CB radio seconds before the accident. Sims also said Venetz had not been drinking and wasn’t distracted by the movie being shown on the bus because the screen was behind him.

“He was doing about 60 (m.p.h.), maybe 62,” Sims said. “I heard him say something and swerve, like something had come off the truck. There wasn’t a guardrail (on that portion of the road). He hit the grass, and the grass was wet and the bus started to fishtail. He knew he couldn’t get back onto the highway, and he wanted to avoid the trees. He hit the guardrail and went down. We tumbled like mad.

“I remember we finally rolled over onto the side. I put my hand up to my head and it was covered with glass from the windows and broken bottles. I looked over at Buck, and boy, he was all crumpled.”

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Said Wathan: “I don’t ever remember leaving my seat. I don’t remember flying through the air. What I remember seeing was all kinds of gray flakes all over me and all over everyone. They were leaves coming in the bus from the trees we hit.”

Those on the second bus feared the worst when they pulled over to the side of the road.

“I went up to that bus and I thought, ‘There’s no way we’re not dealing with multiple serious injuries here,’ ” said radio announcer Bob Jamison.

Players met with Wathan Thursday afternoon to take stock of their injuries and their luck.

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“If we had kept rolling down that hill we would have gone in the water, probably upside down, and who knows what would have happened then?” said catcher Ron Tingley, who sustained sore ribs after hitting the seat in front of him. “It’s incredible that just four guys had to stay in the hospital.”

Additional Coverage

DISASTER PLANS: The major leagues have plans to deal with catastrophes involving their teams. C4

AUTRY REACTION: The Angels’ owner learned of the accident involving his team on his radio station. C4

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ANGEL REACTION: Though on medication, Buck Rodgers discussed lineups with interim manager John Wathan. C5

(Orange County Edition, C1) How the Angels Accident Happened

A bus carrying the Angels from New York to Baltimore was southbound on the New Jersey Turnpike at Deptford Township, N.J., about 1:50 a.m. Thursday when the accident occurred.

Step-by-Step:

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1. Bus veers, allegedly to avoid debris

2. Careens into right guard rail, skidding 175 feet against the rail

3. Bus straddles guard rail for another 25 feet

4. Comes off rail, hurdles forward 250 feet before crashing into trees

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Rail: 2 ft. high

Bus lands 30 ft. from road

Creek at bottom of decline

Those with Extensive Injuries

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Buck Rodgers, manager: Broken right elbow, broken right rib, and broken left knee. Scheduled for elbow surgery Monday at Centinela Hospital in Inglewood.

Bobby Rose, infielder: Sprained right ankle and facial cuts. Ankle placed in cast, Rose placed on 15-day disabled list.

Other Injured Include:

Frank Sims, traveling secretary: Possible kidney damage and cracked ribs.

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Alvin Davis, infielder/designated hitter: Back injury and possible bruised kidneys.

Ned Bergert, head trainer: Bruised ribs and possible kidney damage.

Rick Turner, bullpen catcher: Gash in left side.

Al Conin, radio announcer: Stitches over right eye and black eye.

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Sources: N.J. State Police, California Angels, Courier-Post, Camden-Cherry Hill, N.J.

Researched by BILL BILLITER, HELENE ELLIOTT, JOHN GOLDMAN / Los Angeles Times


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