Students still recovering after UW band bus crash

SEATTLE — Three students say they are still working to recover and to prevent future tragedies after the bus they were taking to the Apple Cup to perform as part of the Husky marching band crashed on I-90.

>>RELATED: Charter bus carrying UW band members overturns on I-90 near George

“We were like: ‘Oh my God, what just happened? Did we -- are we OK? Did someone die? Are we alive, are we here?'” Monica Mursch said.

“I smelled smoke,” Jacob Koreen said. “I wasn’t sure if it was going to explode or not.”

“We landed on barbed wire but then there was glass everywhere,” Alexia Brown said.

The scene of the crash, which occurred Nov. 22, 2018, along I-90 near the town of George, was chaotic.

Members of the Husky marching band were climbing out of the charter bus or lying on the ground after being thrown through windows. It was one of six buses that had been chartered for the trip.

Brown, Mursch, and Koreen never dreamed their Thanksgiving would end with some of them in the hospital.

All three were on their way to Spokane to stay the night before performing with the band during the Apple Cup.

Brown played the alto saxophone. “Music has been a part of my life for a very long time, and it just brings me a lot of joy,” she said.

Mursch plays the alto sax, as well, and Koreen plays the baritone horn.

“Music's who I am as a person,” he said.

The road trip had started with excitement.

“Very optimistic,” Brown said. “Of course, we didn’t think anything would go wrong.”

“People started talking about it — ‘Oh, look, there’s snow outside,’” Mursch said.

Then, Brown said, they felt the bus rock from side to side.

“I just look out through the windshield,” she said, “and I see our headlights illuminating the snow. It just really— we’re moving at a 45-degree angle towards the fence. We’re just sliding towards it.”

The bus smashed through the fence and started to roll.

“While the bus was rolling over, I thought, ‘Oh my God, I’m going to die,’” Monica said.

“It felt so scary and terrifying,” Alexia said. “It was just so earth-shattering. And I could feel my friend's hair in my hand and she was just laying there, motionless.”

Alexia’s friend survived. Alexia was taken to the hospital.

“I fractured my spine in two places,” she said.

Mursch had a broken collarbone.

“I’m in a lot of pain,” Mursch said of that night. “I didn’t see my shoulder bleeding, so I wasn’t really sure what was going on.”

Koreen had a big bruise on his side that made it difficult to walk.

In the days and weeks afterward, the Washington State University marching band played the Huskies’ fight song at the Apple Cup and Koreen and Mursch rallied to perform at the Rose Bowl.

“I’m doing this for my friends,” Jacob said of the experience. “This is who I care about. This is for them, and for all the people that couldn’t perform no more or anything. I’m doing this for them.”

But the road to recovery has been much longer than the trek to Pasadena, California, and back.

Koreen has left the band, though he still performs music elsewhere.

Mursch is still in band despite pain in her back and her own fears.

“I still get scared on a charter bus and even, like, on other modes of transportation, like planes, too — it’s still hard, as well,” Monica said.

“You envision what could go wrong?” reporter Linzi Sheldon asked.

“Yeah,” Mursch said.

But Brown has stopped playing altogether.

“I went and saw an orthopedic surgeon, and he told me that I have the spine of a 50-year-old,” she said. “I have degenerative disc disease. I may need steroid injections in the future.”

She is focusing on recovery and rehab.

“It just devastated me,” Alexia said. “It just shifted my life -- the path I was taking -- dramatically. I just wish it was different.”

The report from the Washington State Patrol suggests it could have been different.

A lawsuit filed by Koreen, Mursch, and Brown’s attorneys, Anthony Marsh and Lara Herrmann, cites troopers, who found the bus’s driver “was driving too fast for conditions.” The lawsuit also goes on to accuse that driver and the bus company, MTR Western, of “negligence.”

“I am very upset that this could happen because after it happened… I feel like it could have been prevented,” Mursch said.

In addition to safer driving, the three of them say improvements would include seat belts for all passengers.

“I just wish it would be a state-mandated law for all vehicles to have seat belts, buses especially,” Brown said.

As Koreen, Mursch, and Brown wait for the lawsuit to work its way through court, they are also turning their eyes to state legislators, demanding stricter regulations on transportation companies that operate similar buses.

Under federal regulations that took effect in 2016, all new tour buses have to be equipped with seat belts but existing buses are not required to be retrofitted with seat belts. Troopers say the bus that crashed, in this case, was a 2007 model.

A new 2018 state law in California requires drivers of commercial and charter buses and their passengers to wear seat belts or face fines.

“What would you say to those (Washington) lawmakers?” Sheldon asked.

“I just want them to envision their child being in this situation,” Brown said. “Because it could happen to anyone. I didn’t think it would happen to me, but it did.”

KIRO 7 reached out to MTR Western multiple times by email and phone but did not hear back.