A tour bus driver suffered a ruptured aneurysm just before the bus veered off a southern Minnesota interstate and crashed, killing two people and injuring 20, the owner of the bus company said Thursday. State officials said they couldn't confirm the aneurysm and it was too early to know the cause of the crash.
Ed Erickson, 52, of Elgin, was driving a group of mostly older passengers home from a day trip to an Iowa casino on Wednesday when the bus swerved off Interstate 90 and rolled in the ditch near Austin.
A passenger said Erickson's body shook and he slumped over the wheel, Dalmer Strain, owner of Strain Bus Line, told KSTP-TV. "This was an aneurysm that came out of the clear blue. And he had no symptoms, no indications," Strain told the station.
State Patrol spokesman Capt. Matt Langer said Erickson had a valid commercial license to operate the 47-passenger bus. Commercial vehicle drivers also are required to get physicals and carry a medical card. Langer wouldn't comment on the status of Erickson's medical card.
He said the State Patrol doesn't yet have firsthand information on Erickson's medical condition and may need a release from Erickson, a search warrant or a court order to get those records.
Randy Lavoie, a spokesman for the tour bus company, told the Post-Bulletin that Erickson had been a full-time driver for Strain since 2006 and a part-time driver since 2002.
In 2002, Erickson pleaded guilty to driving while intoxicated and crossing the center line of a highway, according to court records. His blood alcohol level was measured at .15 percent, well above the legal limit.
The State Patrol said Erickson was at Saint Marys Hospital in Rochester on Thursday. At Erickson's request, no information about his condition was being released.
The bus passengers ranged in age from 52 to 87. Mayo Clinic spokesman Adam Brase said Thursday night that two passengers, Prem Deep and Helen Eubank, were in critical condition; Mayo initially had listed Deep in fair condition and Eubank in serious condition but that was a mistake, he said.
Three other patients were in fair condition at area hospitals. Thirteen passengers were treated and released, and one apparently wasn't hurt, the patrol said.
The State Patrol identified the two people killed as Pamela S. Holmquist, 56, of Kasson, and Rhonda R. Hill, 52, of Plainview.
State investigators were examining the 1989 bus, which has been moved indoors in the Rochester area, Langer said.
Dalmer Strain didn't return calls to his home and company officials declined to make him available for comment. Bold Lines Inc., which does business under the Strain name, was talking to insurance adjusters and the Minnesota Department of Transportation, office manager Steve Burt told The Associated Press on Thursday. "As of right now we are still gathering the facts ourselves," Burt said.
Dr. William Heegaard, assistant chief of emergency medicine at Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis, said he didn't have firsthand knowledge of Erickson's case. But he said the description of the aneurysm sounded like one in which the inner layer of the main blood vessel leading from the heart swells and ruptures, leading to a sudden drop in blood pressure that could cause someone to pass out.
Bold Lines is a small operator with six drivers and four buses and has had no accidents in the past two years, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's Web site.
Three of Bold Lines' past five vehicle inspections resulted in a bus being taken out of service for repairs _ a rate much higher than the national average. An inspection on Oct. 17, for example, found a cracked bus frame, defective windshield wipers and brakes that were out of adjustment, the Web site shows. The four older reports on the Web site show fewer violations.
State officials notified the National Transportation Safety Board of the crash. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration said Thursday it was helping with the investigation.
Associated Press writers Martiga Lohn in St. Paul and Chris Williams in Minneapolis contributed to this report.