KANKAKEE TOWNSHIP | A bus driver involved in a Wednesday crash in LaPorte County was heralded Thursday for saving lives and preventing injuries by keeping the bus on its wheels after a severe wreck that killed a pickup driver.
Michael Krzeczowski, 60, of Crown Point, was the driver of the bus carrying 42 passengers that collided with an oncoming pickup truck Wednesday afternoon on U.S. 20 near LaPorte County Road 450 East.
Authorities said a 1993 Chevrolet S-10 slid on the snow-covered surface into the bus.
The driver of the truck, John Kallok, 36, of Griffith, was pronounced dead at the scene.
LaPorte County Coroner John Sullivan said Kallok was ejected from his truck and was pinned beneath one of tires and the undercarriage of his vehicle.
After the collision, Krzeczowski was able to keep the bus from tipping onto its side despite being pushed into a rough terrain of a cornfield and other hazards, according to authorities.
The bus was heading back to Mishawaka from Four Winds Casino outside New Buffalo, Mich.
Laura Dennison, of Royal Excursion in Mishawaka, said the driver directed the bus through a shallow ditch and between two large trees until coming to rest 500 feet off the highway without overturning.
Dennison said drivers are trained in off-road maneuvering before they are allowed to take the wheel.
She said Krzeczowski was declining offers to comment out of respect for the victim.
"It's just a sensitive issue because of the death that occurred," Dennison said.
LaPorte County Sheriff Mike Mollenhauer said the bus crashed into some smaller trees and a limb broke the windshield.
"By God, and a lot of luck, he missed those (larger) trees and kept it upright. It was good driving," Mollenhauer said.
Dennison said 18 passengers were injured.
Among the injured was Pat Munlin, 54, of South Bend, who was treated at a hospital for bruises and later released.
"I don't even want to think about it. It was awful," Munlin said.
Munlin said she doesn't remember much except being helped off the floor once the bus came to rest.
"I just want to forget it. It was very frightening," she said.
Mollenhauer said every passenger was helped out through the opening of a large passenger side window after the collision.
Patients were then physically carried on backboards through the snow-covered field to ambulances waiting on the edge of the highway.
Eight ambulances were used to transport patients to hospitals in LaPorte and South Bend.
LaPorte County Emergency Medical Service Director Pat Pease said the crash was the type of disaster her crews and other responders train for on a regular basis.
"When they actually do happen we feel we're prepared," Pease said. She added the effort will be closely examined to see if there's room for any improvement.
"All in all we felt it went very smoothly at the scene considering the number of patients we had," Pease said.