A routine jaunt across St. Simons Island turned into an emergency situation one recent Friday afternoon for tour bus driver Richard Gardner, who suddenly found himself rolling toward the intersection of Frederica Road and Kings Way with a bus full of riders and no brakes, according to a Glynn County Police report.
He immediately took action March 29 to avoid contact with the many vehicles up ahead of him at the intersection, attempting to merge through Frederica Road’s open right turn lane onto Kings Way, the report said. Gardner managed to avoid all but one vehicle.
That was the 2001 Toyota Avalon driven by Bryant Arrington, who was stopped in traffic on Kings Way when the trolley struck the vehicle near the left rear axle, the report said.
The St. Simons Island resident told The Brunswick News he was grateful for his habit of always wearing a seatbelt.
“But the force was so dramatic that my rear window blew into thousands of fragments,” Arrington said. “I sat and tried to figure out what happened.”
The trolley belonging to Lighthouse Trolleys Land and Sea Tours rolled for another 60 feet before coming to a stop in brushes and shrubs on the other side of Kings Way, which borders The Island Club at Retreat, the report said.
Three of the 26 people on board the trolley were transported to Southeast Georgia Health System’s Brunswick hospital, the report said. Those were a 70-year-old man and two women, ages 64 and 78, all of Miami, according to the police report. Bryant was transported to SGHS and treated for cracked ribs, he said.
The cause of the accident is listed as “brake failure,” according to the report. Gardner was not cited, according to the report.
Cap Fendig, owner of Lighthouse Trolleys, said he followed up with the passengers who were transported, and their injuries were minor.
“It certainly could have been something catastrophic,” Fendig said Monday. “But by the grace of God, it wasn’t. This was our first wreck in 48 years of business.”
Gardner has been driving for Lighthouse Trolleys for 10 years and drove for the Sea Island resort before that, Fendig said. Such tour buses undergo regular and required state inspections, a practice Fendig Trolleys would adhere to regardless of regulations, Fendig said.
The crash occurred around 2:09 p.m. “Mr. Gardner stated when he attempted to slow down for the traffic signal, he realized his brakes were malfunctioning and he could not slow the vehicle,” the report said.
The trolley could not “make the right hand turn due to the sharpness of the curve,” the report said. The trolley went over the turn lane’s median curb and landscaping and struck Arrington’s car, the report said.
“It was like a bomb going off,” Arrington, 71, said of the impact. “It was unbelievable.”