Steamship bus driver dies at Palmer lot

SSA bus passenger: ‘I felt trapped’

A Steamship Authority bus driver died Sunday at the Palmer Avenue lot. - George Brennan

Updated Dec. 4 at 3:45 pm

The Steamship Authority is mourning the death of one of its employees, bus driver Jack Hayes.

On Sunday at about 3:30 pm, Mr. Hayes, who has been a shuttle bus driver for 10 years, died, with passengers on board his bus, parked at the Palmer Avenue lot.

In an updated statement released Monday, Robert Davis, general manager for the SSA, said the bus was parked in the lot picking up passengers when Mr. Hayes died. “Jack was a consummate professional, courteous and kind,” Mr. Davis said. “To lose such a valuable member of our team is difficult. Our thoughts and sincerest sympathies are with his wife and two children at this time.”

The Times spoke with a witness, who asked that his name not be used, who said there were only a total of seven passengers on the bus, but five of them were children between the ages of 3 and 10.

The driver seemed happy and healthy when the man climbed aboard. They exchanged pleasantries, but a few minutes later, Mr. Hayes slumped over in his chair.

“It didn’t register with me right away. Then he fell over to the right and crashed to the floor,” the witness said. “He cracked his head open, and there was blood everywhere.”

The father of the children jumped up to attempt CPR, but could not get a pulse, and the other witness looked for a way to get the children off the bus.

“They were screaming and crying,” he said.

He described a frightening few minutes where he attempted to use the driver’s walkie-talkie, but was unable to get it to work. He couldn’t find the switch to open the locked doors, either. The witness said he laid on the horn while the children jumped and screamed on the back of the bus, but could not get the attention of a driver an estimated 50 feet away.

“The father dialed 911 and handed me his phone,” the witness said. “I got transferred three times.”

Meanwhile, the father climbed out a window, dropped to the ground and ran to the bus behind to alert the driver to the incident.

“I just kept thinking, we have to get these kids off this bus,” the witness told The Times. “I was just dumbfounded. Wasn’t the other driver wondering, ‘Why is he laying on the horn? Why are kids jumping up and down on the bus?’ … We did everything to get his attention. Nothing worked.”

A spokesman for the Steamship Authority wrote in an email that he had no answers to questions about the specifics of the incident beyond the statement released about Mr. Hayes.

Tara Miltimore, a spokeswoman for Cape and Islands District Attorney Michael O’Keefe, wrote in an email that the death is not considered suspicious, but remains under investigation.

Flags at the Woods Hole terminal were at half-staff Monday morning.

The witness told The Times he would like to see the Steamship Authority label the door mechanism, and provide instructions on the bus of what to do in an emergency, especially one that incapacitates the driver.

The witness said his No. 1 thought was to get the kids out of the traumatic situation, and he couldn’t do it. “The exit should be labeled so a passenger could see it for any emergency,” he said. “I felt trapped. I felt like I couldn’t get out of the bus, and not get the kids out of the bus. That was scary.”

Just as emergency crews arrived, the witness, the father, and his children boarded another bus and headed to the Woods Hole terminal to catch a ferry to the Island.

Looking back, the man who spoke to The Times is relieved that the medical emergency didn’t occur during the trip from Palmer Avenue to Woods Hole.

“Thank God he didn’t go anywhere,” the witness said. “It would have been a lot worse.”