A shuttle bus headed from the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport to a U.S. Army base crashed, killing a 28-year old soldier originally from Skokie, Illinois.
The 24-seat bus was carrying ten passengers, all soldiers, on Interstate 5 near Tacoma in the late afternoon, when the shuttle bus driver apparently lost control of the van. On board the bus was Private Reymon B. Tolentino, who had been assigned to assist in the transport of members of his unit. According to Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Sowers, spokesman for the U.S. Army 7th Infantry Division, the unit had just arrived at the airport after having returned from deployment in Afghanistan.
Witnesses report that the van was driving in a southbound direction and had nearly reached Joint Base Lewis-McChord when it suddenly veered and hit a concrete barrier and light pole on the left side of the highway. The bus kept moving but hit the barrier again before coming to a stop on the shoulder. None of the passengers were wearing seat belts, as the van was not equipped with them.
At the time that emergency responders arrived at the scene, Private Tolentino was not conscious. He was taken to nearby Tacoma General Hospital and pronounced dead a short time later.
In addition to Tolentino, a 34-year old soldier from Texas also sustained injuries and was taken to the same hospital in serious condition. His full recovery is expected. Minor injuries were noted in two additional soldiers who were also taken to the hospital.
The cause of the crash is not yet known, though investigators are working hard to determine why the shuttle bus driver lost control. By all accounts neither the weather nor road conditions played a part in the crash, and the shuttle bus driver, age 66, was tested and found not to have been impaired at the time of the incident.
Private Tolentino had entered active duty early last year as a combat engineer after having completed basic training in Missouri at Fort Leonard Wood. He was part of the 22nd Engineer Clearance Company, 14th Eng. Battalion, 555th Eng. Brigade, 7th Infantry division and was part of the rear detachment duty. During his short tenure in the Army he had already been awarded the Army Achievement Medal, the Global War on Terror Service Medal, the National Defense Service Medal and the Army Service Ribbon.