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Forever Remembered News Staff

Date: Mon. Jan. 31 2005 6:24 AM ET

The driver of a bus carrying a Canadian women's hockey team told police he hit something on the road before colliding with a truck in a crash that killed four people.

New York state police said, however, that they are still investigating the cause of the accident, and that they have not determined if there was in fact anything on the road.

The bus was carrying 22 female players from the Windsor Wildcats hockey team, en route to a ski resort after a game on Saturday. Some parents and the team's coaches were also on board.

The bus was travelling on Interstate 390, about 40 kilometres south of Rochester, when it suddenly swerved and collided with a tractor trailer.

A state police spokesman said the truck driver was standing outside his rig, parked on the shoulder when the bus rear-ended the truck.

Maj. Steve White of the New York State Police speculated earlier on Sunday that the driver of the bus may have fallen asleep at the wheel.

The Canadian victims were identified as:  team coach Richard Edwards, 46, his 13-year-old son, Brian, from LaSalle, Ont.; and Catherine Roach, 50, of Windsor, Ont., a mother of one of the hockey players.

Friends described Edwards as a well-known figure in the community who loved coaching hockey and baseball.  His wife, Sheila, is the team's trainer and manager. His 21-year-old daughter, Kelly, is the team's goalie. Both survived the crash.

The driver of the truck, 42-year-old Ernest Zeiset of Womelsdorf, Pennsylvania, was pronounced dead at the scene.

Nineteen people were taken to hospital Saturday, some by helicopter.

Three Wildcats players remained in critical condition in intensive care Sunday in Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, and eight were in satisfactory condition.

"They have a range of injuries, mostly factures," said spokeswoman Leslie Orr of those remaining in hospital.

Eight others were treated and released. Team officials told CFTO's John Musselman that many of the players who were released are now heading back to the Windsor area.

Police identified the bus's driver as Ontario resident Ryan Comfort, and added he's told investigators that he hit something on the interstate seconds before the accident.

Road conditions at the time of the accident were reportedly dry, clear, and visibility was good, according to White.

The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board dispatched a three-person team to investigate the accident, said spokesman Paul Schlamm.

He said they will examine the wreckage and investigate whether the structural strength of the bus, or driver fatigue, could have contributed.

According to a New York State police spokesman, the bus was shoved ahead almost 30 metres by the impact.

The truck driver had stopped, apparently, to let his dog out. He was walking around on the side of the bus with the dog, when the bus careened off the road and rammed into the bus.

Murphy described the right side of the bus as being "split open like a tin can."

The truck driver's wife was in the truck and was injured.

Amazingly, the bus's driver survived the crash. Some other people walked away from the crash scene despite the crash's violence.

"I think (the police) are pretty surprised by that," said ABC affiliate reporter Gavin Reynolds. "They pretty much say it was the worst they have ever responded to."

Interstate 390 has a speed limit of just under 105 kilometres per hour. Police aren't saying speed was a factor, Reynolds said.

"At this time no charges have been filed because the investigation is incomplete," Thomas Moran, Livingston County District Attorney, told the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.

"However, that doesn't mean (the driver) is not a person of interest."

A special support team was to be assembled Monday at the team's home arena in Windsor to talk to grieving family members and friends.

"It's hard to think of a word that describes (the emotions),'' said Brian Sivell, a skate sharpener at the arena, on Sunday. "I see the parents and kids here every Saturday, and you don't expect anything like that to happen."

"We're all in shock here," said Sue Sheridan, a public relations official for the hockey association. "This was supposed to be a fun trip for them.''

With reports from CTV's Peter Murphy, CFTO's John Musselman, ABC affiliate reporter Gavin Reynolds and files from The Canadian Press and The Associated Press

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