Safari carrying tourists crashes into thick brush on Skyline Drive
Published: January 28, 2012
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ST. THOMAS - A safari taxi carrying 13 cruise ship tourists on a shore excursion darted from Skyline Drive on Friday morning, levelling mailboxes, striking a parked SUV, launching itself over the ridge and plunging 65 feet into thick bush.
The wreck left no skid marks.
All 13 passengers were injured in the crash about one quarter mile west of Beacon Point at 9:23 a.m.
The crash broke one woman's hip and caused a cut on one passenger's forehead that required stitches.
The woman remained at Schneider Hospital on Friday night - after her 12 tour mates had returned to the Serenade of the Seas to finish their seven-day Caribbean cruise.
The driver was not injured, said St. Thomas Deputy Police Chief Dwayne DeGraff.
All passengers initially were taken to Schneider Hospital for treatment.
The guests were on a "Best of St. Thomas and Shopping" three-and-a-half hour shore excursion, according to Royal Caribbean, which owns the Serenade of the Seas.
The west-bound taxi veered left at an uphill right turn and struck a bank of mailboxes and the side of an Acura SUV parked in a driveway.
The taxi then climbed the ridge and careened downhill into bush beside a concrete driveway on the southern slope.
The SUV was damaged because "once the safari hit it, it spun and had a new parking space," said V.I. Taxicab Commission Executive Director Judith Wheatley.
The V.I. Police Department issued no statements about the wreck Friday.
Police Department spokeswoman Melody Rames would not disclose the driver's name and said she knew of no charges against the driver.
Wheatley said the wreck remains under investigation. She identified the driver, but only as a man named Mulrain.
The driver has never been cited with a commission violation, Wheatley said.
"He's legally authorized to operate a taxi," Wheatley said.
She was not sure whether the driver owned or leased a taxi medallion, which 1,243 active and dormant drivers bear.
"The priority today was the safety of the guests," Wheatley said. "It's never too late to cite him."
The commission enforces a code of conduct among its members, but the V.I. Bureau of Motor Vehicles enforces equipment guidelines for the commercial vehicles.
The current law states that a driver can have four violations before the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, the V.I. Attorney General's Office and the Taxicab Commission can hold a hearing to consider revoking a driver's right to operate a taxi.
Safaris have been scrutinized for safety hazards, Wheatley said.
The commission has met with the Bureau of Motor Vehicles throughout this month to discuss equipment solutions that could improve the taxis' safety for passengers, she said.
"It's a discussion of what criteria should be set in place safety-wise for the safari vehicle," Wheatley. "I'm only a participant by the request of the BMV."
Several recent accidents have put safari safety into the spotlight.
Tuesday, a passenger fell from a safari in Anna's Retreat in front of Holy Family Catholic Church. The victim was treated at Schneider Hospital for her injuries.
Last week, a taxi rear-ended a car on Veterans Drive, sending it off the waterfront apron into an anchored boat with seven people aboard before coming to rest in the water.
About a month ago, a safari taxi carrying St. John vacationers to King Airport wrecked near Foster Plaza at the top of Cassi Hill.
"A couple of people didn't make the plane that day," Wheatley said.
"Welcome to my world," Wheatley said. "Lately, it seems like it's back to back."
- Contact reporter Michael Todd at 714-9104 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.