Bus deaths mourned

The people of the small farming town of Makrohori and six surrounding villages yesterday mourned the death of 21 teenage school students killed on Sunday in Greece’s worst traffic accident. The peach-farming community near Veria in northern Greece was devastated, with every neighborhood affected by the tragedy, and with family, friends, teachers and neighbors walking behind hearses with white coffins. «Every neighborhood in Makrohori has a victim. Every village has a funeral,» muttered Mayor Lefteris Valavanis. Makrohori’s priest, Father Dimitris, said: «A few days ago the snow and frost destroyed our crop. But this tragedy we will not be able to bear.» The 21 children aged 15 and 16 were killed when a truck and trailer loaded with heavy plywood boards swung out of control and crashed into the bus carrying 49 junior high students, three teachers and their driver as they returned from a three-day excursion to Athens. The accident occurred 386 kilometers from the capital, in the Vale of Tempe, where the country’s main north-south highway narrows dangerously in the ravine. The causes of the accident are being investigated, but from all accounts it appears that plywood boards had flown off the truck and scythed through the bus, decapitating some students, cutting through the roof’s supports and bringing it crashing down on others. Nine people were seriously injured, including bus driver Costas Mavromichalis, 56. Twenty-six were slightly injured, including the driver of the truck, Dimitris Dolas, 43. Late on Sunday, the hospitals at Larissa and Katerini reported a total of 23 dead, but this appeared to be the result of some victims being counted twice. Dolas was charged yesterday with repeated counts of premeditated murder with possible malice, a felony. Such charges were filed after the Samina ferry sinking in 2000 to reflect that those responsible were negligent while knowing that this could cause many deaths. Dolas left Alexandroupolis in northeastern Greece with 26 tons of plywood at noon on Sunday. The accident occurred shortly before 8 p.m. Supreme Court prosecutor Evangelos Kroustallakis ordered an investigation into possible responsibility of the truck owner, the haulage company and local officials who might have neglected actions that would have prevented the accident.