Originally created 03/15/04

Conditions for those injured in bus crash improving



BEAUFORT, S.C. -- Those injured when a bus carrying Navy personnel crashed into oncoming traffic are getting better, including the driver of a semitrailer rig that collided with the bus.

Michael Clements, 46, of Yemassee suffered several broken bones and a punctured lung in the wreck, said his son, who shares the same name. Three sailors, including the bus driver, were killed in the crash and dozens others were injured.

The younger Michael Clements was at his father's bedside at Memorial Health University Medical Center in Savannah, Ga., on Saturday.

He said his father's condition improved Friday night. "He was critical when he got here," the son said.

Buses carrying Navy personnel from the guided missile destroyer William Pinckney were on their way from Charleston for a ceremony at the Beaufort National Cemetery.

One of the buses swerved to the right on the narrow, two-lane highway and hit the left front of a tractor trailer cab, police said. A second bus swerved to avoid the accident, crossed a small ditch and a cyclone fence before entering a yard.

Police are still investigating the cause of the crash.

"We may never know the answer to that question because the man driving the bus was killed," said Lance Cpl. Paul Brouthers of the South Carolina Highway Patrol. "It will be a very thorough investigation. We want to examine all the possibilities involved."

Several sailors remained in hospitals Saturday, but their conditions had improved, said USS Pinckney spokesman Lt. Adam Albarado. "Some of them will be there for a little while longer," Albarado said.

Those killed were Joseph Concepcion, 25, of Upper Marlboro, Md., Kip Baker, 19, of Pittsboro, Ind., and Michael Turner Booker, 33, according to information from the Navy and Beaufort County Coroner Curt Copeland.

The USS Pinckney was visiting South Carolina this week and planned to make stops at other ports along the East Coast before heading to a May 29 commissioning ceremony at Port Hueneme in Ventura County, California. The ship will be stationed at the San Diego Naval Base after it is commissioned.

The ship is named for William Pinckney, a native of Beaufort who won the Navy's second-highest honor for saving the life of a shipmate during a Japanese attack on the carrier Enterprise in 1942.

Pinckney died in 1975. The sailors from the Pinckney were on their way to Beaufort for a ceremony at his graveside with his widow.