Archive for Monday, April 19, 2004

American teen dies in tour bus wreck

April 19, 2004


— A bus carrying American teenage soccer players overturned in a ditch east of Paris on Sunday, killing one boy and seriously injuring three others, officials said.

The roads were wet from overnight rain, but authorities in the Seine-et-Marne region said it was not immediately clear why the tour bus, carrying about 35 people -- including two drivers -- overturned near Mitry-Mory, east of Paris. French officials said excessive speed might have been a factor.

School officials identified the boy killed as Matt Helms, 13.

"His teammates loved him," middle school soccer coach Ray Colley said from the Helms family's home in Jacksonville, N.C. "He was just really fun and so focused."

French officials had originally said Helms was 16.

Another 13-year-old and two 14-year-olds were hospitalized with severe injuries. Eight other people were lightly injured, and many others were treated for shock.

The players, all boys, were members of an Olympic development program from North Carolina and had arrived in Europe 10 days ago for a series of matches, according to the North Carolina Youth Soccer Assn. Web site.

Robert Singer, president of the soccer association, said two coaches and seven parents were accompanying the team. Some of the adults suffered minor injuries, he said.

Singer said the Olympic Development program was designed to "identify the best soccer players in the state."

Regional prosecutor Philibert Demory, speaking on Europe-1 radio, said the bus "was carrying youths returning from a soccer tournament in the area of Nantes."

He said they were on the way to Paris' Charles de Gaulle airport to fly to Atlanta.

An investigation was under way, but Demory said "early signs lead one to believe" excessive speed was the cause. He said the two drivers were in police custody for questioning.

The bus was operated by "Voyages de la Baie," a transport company based in Nantes, officials said.

U.S. Ambassador Howard Leach visited some of the injured at a hospital near the scene of the accident, an embassy spokesman said.

About 30 rescue vehicles, more than 80 rescue workers and three helicopters were called to the crash scene.

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