Fifteen people were injured when a charter bus headed to the Masters golf tournament overturned on a Georgia Interstate 20 Thursday, snarling traffic as scores of fans made the pilgrimage to one of the sport’s premier events. The bus driver was charged with driving under the influence.
The bus carrying 18 passengers crashed at about 8:45 a.m. Thursday, just as fans were driving in for the tournament’s first round. Sgt. Chris Wright of the Georgia State Patrol said the driver ran off the right side, then overcorrected and caused the bus to overturn in the median. Some passengers suffered broken bones and head injuries, Wright said, but none were life-threatening.
The bus driver, 61-year-old Steven F. Hoppenbrouwer of Gwinnett County, Georgia, was charged with DUI and failure to maintain lane. Wright said investigators believe Hoppenbrouwer had been using drugs, not alcohol. He said passengers told authorities the bus had drifted off the edge of the roadway twice before it veered a third time and crashed.
“They were starting to become concerned about his ability to drive,” Wright told The Associated Press in a phone interview. “One of the guys had even said, ‘I’m not riding back with him. I’ll call an Uber to get back to Atlanta.'”
The Masters is one of pro golf’s four major tournaments, and it draws fans from across the Southeast — and around the world.
The crash blocked Interstate 20 in both directions about 15 miles (24 kilometers) from the tournament at Augusta National Golf Club along a major route from Atlanta, where many golf fans fly in before driving the last leg. It took hours to clear the crash, and even then authorities advised drivers to look for alternate routes.
“Major incident here. Masters traffic affected for sure,” state Transportation Department officials said on Twitter.
Operated by Jet Executive Limousine of metro Atlanta, the charter bus “was set up like a party limousine in the back,” Wright said.
He said the interior of the bus matched a photo on the company’s website showing colorful strip lighting, a single row of seats lining each side of the bus and cocktail glasses hanging over a bar.
“It didn’t appear to us that any of the patrons in the back were intoxicated or anything of that nature,” Wright said. “They were just riding down for a pleasant day at the Masters. And unfortunately tragedy struck.”
A man who answered the phone number listed for the limousine company based in metro Atlanta declined to comment. “We’re not making any statements right now,” said the man, who wouldn’t give his name.
A phone number listed for Hoppenbrouwer was disconnected. It was not immediately known if he had an attorney.
– RUSS BYNUM, Associated Press