- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 9, 2008

SHERMAN, Texas (AP) | An unlicensed charter bus carrying a Vietnamese-American Catholic group on a pilgrimage to an open-air religious festival blew a tire and skidded off a highway early Friday, killing at least 14 people and injuring more than 40.

The bus, en route from Houston to Missouri with 55 people aboard, smashed into a guardrail and tipped over along the edge of the road at about 12:45 a.m., crushing one side of the vehicle and scattering luggage, clothes, a sandal and a blood-soaked pillow across the grass and pavement.

More than a dozen victims were reported in critical condition. Ten people were taken to the hospital by helicopter.

Most of the passengers were from the Vietnamese Martyrs Church and two other mostly Vietnamese congregations in Houston and were on their way to Carthage, Mo., for an annual festival honoring the Virgin Mary.

The Marian Days pilgrimage, begun in the late 1970s, attracts thousands of Catholics of Vietnamese descent and includes a large outdoor Mass each day, entertainment and camping at night.

“Please pray for us,” said Holly Nguyen, a 38-year-old church member who was following behind the bus in a car but did not see the wreck. She anxiously awaited word of her father, who was on the bus when it ran off the road about 65 miles north of Dallas, close to the Oklahoma line.

The bus operator, Iguala BusMex Inc. of Houston, had applied in June for a federal license to operate as a charter but was still awaiting approval, according to online records.

The company recently filed incorporation papers, listing the same owner and address as Angel Tours Inc., which was forced by federal regulators to take its vehicles out of interstate service June 23 after an unsatisfactory review, records show. Details of the review were not in the online records.

In a Houston building with a weathered Angel Tours plywood sign, a man declined to identify himself Friday or comment to the Associated Press about the wreck.

The National Transportation Safety Board sent investigators to the scene of the Texas wreck.

“It appears a right tire on the tour bus had a blowout that contributed to the accident,” said Sherman police Lt. Steve Ayers. The driver was reported in stable condition.

The Rev. Joseph Vu, a priest at the Vietnamese Martyrs Church and vicar for the 30,000 to 35,000 Vietnamese Catholics in the region, was not on the trip but arrived at a relief station set up for victims’ families at a church in nearby Denison.

“I’m going to tell people we don’t blame anybody,” he said. “This happened like Katrina, like Challenger. What we can do is pray.”

He added: “God will comfort them. Tell people to keep trusting in God. Do not blame anybody. Do not ask why. Now we just help each other to get through this.”

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