Several Arizona inmates are being praised for their cooperation and assistance following an early morning highway accident that left more than a dozen injured.
Fifty inmates were in a Department of Corrections bus returning from a worksite around 1 a.m. Tuesday when the driver crashed into a commercial semitrailer that had moments earlier rolled over on I-8, roughly 65 miles outside of Phoenix.
The DOC bus driver and two inmates were airlifted to Phoenix-area hospitals while 18 other inmates were ground transported to hospitals, Trooper Tim Case, a spokesman for the Arizona Department of Public Safety, told The Huffington Post on Tuesday.
The 30 inmates who were unhurt aided in directing traffic and "were laying out flares and helping the injured," Case said.
Sgt. Josh Wilhelm of the DPS told The Associated Press he had pictured a much different scene as he was en route to the crash site.
"Everybody's seen the movies and I thought, 'Oh no, I'm gonna have inmates scatter and we're gonna have 50 fugitives," Wilhelm said. "That was not the case."
The inmates were all minimum-security offenders serving less than five-year sentences for mostly nonviolent crimes like robbery and DUI. The uninjured inmates were all accounted for and returned to the DOC's Lewis facility in the Phoenix suburb of Buckeye, according to Bill Lamoreaux, a spokesman for the Arizona Department of Corrections.
Lamoreaux told HuffPost on Tuesday that it was "great to hear" of the inmates' helpfulness.
"It’s always heartwarming to see anyone jump in when assistance is needed," he said.
Lamoreaux said it's not uncommon for an inmate work crew to be returning to the prison at such a late hour. "We have work crews at sites all around the state who are working all sorts of different hours," he said.
It was unclear as of Tuesday afternoon what caused the semitrailer to roll over or what caused the DOC bus driver to crash into it. Case said the crash tore the semi's trailer apart and sent the prison bus veering into the dirt median.
"We don't know why the driver crashed, so he’ll be interviewed once he’s stable," Case said of the prison bus driver.
Lamoreaux said he hopes the experience of helping out during an emergency will inspire the inmates when they're eventually released and rejoin the community.
"I think the programming, the work, the education, all the different opportunities we provide -- hopefully it sinks in," Lamoreaux added.