Tour bus driver killed in Gilmer County crash identified

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Authorities released the name Friday of the tour bus driver killed in a Gilmer County crash that injured 43 other people.

The Georgia State Patrol identified the victim as Richard Rees, 66, of Marietta. Reese died in the Thursday crash involving the tour bus he drove and a tractor trailer.

Troopers also identified the tractor trailer driver as Charles Howard, 56, of Concord, North Carolina. 

According to a State Patrol release, the investigation by the GSP Specialized Collision Reconstruction Team (SCRT) is ongoing, and any charges are pending the completion of the investigation.

‘One person was killed in the crash and 43 others were injured, according to Gilmer County Public Safety.

The accident happened on Highway 515 at Whitestone Road near the city of Ellijay. Georgia State Patrol troopers said the tractor-trailer was trying to turn left into the southbound lanes of the highway, but forced to stop in the northbound lanes because of on-coming traffic. That is when troopers said the bus crashed into the truck.

"The curve that comes up to that intersection has a limited sight distance and that's somewhere where we do see you know accidents that can be pretty challenging," said Gilmer Public Safety Director Tony Pritchett at a Thursday afternoon news conference.

“The law pertains to tractor trailer as it does to any motor vehicle; when they're pulling out of an intersection they have to clear the intersection. They can't stop in middle of the intersection like that,” said Commander Kevin Johnson, Georgia State Patrol.

"Our emergency responders immediately went to work and got on that bus to star assessing patients to determine what their need was," said Pritchett, "The majority of the passengers on the bus were elderly passengers."

There were 48 people on the bus including the driver at the time of the accident.

A spokesperson for Piedmont Mountainside Hospital said 29 people from the bus were treated and released from their facilities Thursday.

At least one person was transported to Wellstar Kennestone Hospital in Marietta. Their condition was not immediately known.

Investigators said the bus is owned by Greatime Getaways of Marietta.

All southbound lanes of the highway were closed through about 6 p.m. Thursday to allow for the GSP Specialized Collision Reconstruction Team to investigate the crash.

The bus was traveling to Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River Casino & Hotel when the accident happened. The resort issued the following statement Thursday afternoon:

“We are saddened to hear of this terrible accident.  Our thoughts and prayers are extended to those involved and condolences to the family for their tragic loss.”

Pritchett said he hopes those coming to the area because of all the fall festivals will use this as a cautionary tale while driving along Highway 515.