Driver in Route 8 bus crash died of heart attack

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By Dick Lindsay

Berkshire Eagle Staff

PITTSFIELD -- City police have identified the bus driver killed in an early morning crash near the Berkshire Mall that also injured five adult passengers attending a summer college program in North Adams.

James A. Witherell, 70, of Williamstown, was driving a school bus owned by Dufour Inc. of Hinsdale in the northbound lane of Route 8 around 12:30 a.m. today, when he suddenly lost control of the vehicle, according to police. Officer Charles Bassett said eyewitnesses reported the bus that was carrying approximately 15 people swerved to the right and slammed into a guardrail located between the entrances to the mall and Unistress Corp.

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Witherell was pronounced dead after being taken to Berkshire Medical Center. Bassett said a preliminary medical report indicates he died as the result of an apparent heart attack.

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The five injured passengers, whose names were not available, were also taken to BMC where four of them were treated and released. A fifth was also expected to be discharged, according to an official with the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts.

MCLA's vice president of administration and finance, James Stakenas, said the passengers were teachers from New York and Massachusetts attending the college's Graduate Leadership Program, a two-week course for those educators training to become school administrators.

Two other Dufour busses also carrying a total of nearly 30 students from the same program were just behind the bus that crashed, but were not involved in the accident, officials said.

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Dufour General Manager Jack Clark said the all the remaining students were eventually put on one bus and returned to MCLA about two hours following the crash.

Clark said this is the first time a Dufour bus driver had died behind the wheel in the company's nearly 40-year history.

"I just felt terrible," Clark said, referring to when he first heard Witherell had died. "Our prays go out to him and his family."


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