After a weeklong cruise full of resting and relaxation, The Duttons have returned to Branson this week for the first time since their tour bus overturned in Columbus, Ohio.
The Duttons were in route to participate in their Dutton Fan Cruise aboard Royal Caribbean from New Jersey to Nova Scotia, when, just before midnight on July 4, The Duttons’ tour bus or “touring rig” overturned. The rig was headed eastbound on I-70 when the driver, Dean Dutton, attempted to exit onto I-270 in Columbus, Ohio to get fuel. Sheila Dutton said, due to a poorly marked exit, her husband was unable to navigate the turn.
“We went off into a ravine and it flipped over on its side with a really force. It did a lot of damage,” said Sheila Dutton. “Then we were almost upside down because at the bottom of the ravine there was water. It wasn’t a lot of water.
“But it came to rest in a swampy place.”
Sheila explained that some of the grandchildren had been up on the double couches behind her in the passenger’s seat, but most of the family were all in the back of the bus sleeping in the bunks.
“I started looking for a way out. It was a feeling of comfort and peace throughout the whole thing, which I’m so grateful for,” said Sheila Dutton. “The grandchildren. None of them were screaming or crying. They were just saying ‘Grandma, how can we get out of the bus?’”
As the bus was flipped onto its driver’s side and the passenger door was now on top of the bus and bent shut, Sheila Dutton said they started exiting the rig through the broken windows that were above the top of the cab of the truck.
“Everybody was wonderful,” said Sheila Dutton.
“They probably had about 20 different emergency vehicles on the scene in a manner of minutes. Ambulances and fire trucks.
“I found out later that was a spot where a lot of accidents have occurred. So the message that went out is that there’s been a bus turnover. So I think they were expecting a lot of fatalities, and that’s why they came in such huge numbers.”
Within 10 to 15 minutes, Sheila Dutton said, everyone had been able to exit the bus, except for Abigail and her husband Adam.
“They were trapped in their top bunk. The way that the bedding and mattresses and the partitions had collapsed, they were pinned in there. We couldn’t hear them, so that was kind of a concern. It took about 20 minutes of work by the firemen to get them out. They finally cut a hole in the bus and used the jaws of life contraption to get them out.
“When Abby was taken on the stretcher up to the top where most of us had assembled,” said Sheila Dutton. “When they brought Abby up she asked, ‘Is everybody alive?’ When she found out that they were all alive, she just started crying. It was really a sweet, tender moment when we were finally all reunited.”
Due to the number of Duttons, Sheila Dutton said the family was separated and taken to four different hospitals. Initially, Sheila Dutton said that she began looking for hotels for the family to just stay in Columbus, but a conversation with a Columbus police sergeant changed her mind.
“I didn’t see how we could even think about going on the cruise and Sgt. Joe Curmode said to me, ‘Sheila I’ve seen these situations. You are not going to be able to drive home for several days. So I strongly advise you, if everybody can eventually be released from the hospital in time, that you go on your cruise and that you rest up and heal so that you can make the trip home.’” Dutton said.
“At that point I realized that he was probably right.”
Soon all the members of the family except four had been cleared and released from the hospital.
Those who had been released took two of the three 15-passenger vans the family had rented and continued their journey to Newark, New Jersey where they already had a hotel waiting for them.
Sheila Dutton said she stayed with her husband Dean, Amy, Timothy and Judith, who had been the most seriously injured.
“I worked really hard with the hospital people to get them discharged. It was kind of difficult, because they basically would have liked them to stay longer,” Sheila Dutton said. “Finally, about 10 p.m. that night we got her released and we drove to Newark to join the rest of the family.”
Sheila Dutton said when they got on the cruise, all of their fans were just so full of concern, love and appreciation.
“When we got back to port a week later and disembarked we were doing much better. People had healed,” she said. “Officer Curmode really knew what he was talking about, because it was a good thing that we had that time to heal.”
Following the cruise, the family learned that a semi-truck had gone off the roadway and crashed in the same spot, just a couple days after they did.
“It was interesting to discover that they now have flashing caution lights there. So at least we did our little contribution in making it a safer spot to travel,” said Sheila Dutton.
The Dutton family has returned to Branson and are back on stage as scheduled.
Sheila Dutton said, due to a couple of instruments that were broken in the crash and those unable to dance because of injuries, the show has undergone a few adjustments.
“We just felt God’s hands on us and just feel so grateful.”