by: Greg Suskin Updated:
CHARLOTTE, N.C. - India Albelo Mendez left Charlotte Monday night for what was supposed to be a 12-hour bus ride to New York City. She planned to pick up her four children and bring them home to Rock Hill.
"Everything was fine until we got to Virginia at 2 in the morning," she told Channel 9 by phone on Wednesday. "We heard a noise and thought it was a flat tire at first. There was smoke everywhere, but it wasn't a flat."
The bus broke down in Ashland, Va., north of Richmond in the middle of the night.
"It was smoking really, really bad and we had to open all the emergency windows," Mendez said.
By morning, the driver managed to find a mechanic, but once they were on the road again seven hours later, the bus broke down a second time only 15 miles up the road, in Ruther Glen.
Mendez called her mother, Luz Mendez, who was livid.
"Nobody wanted to help them. They didn't send a bus out there. They didn't send anybody," she said.
The broken down bus sat in a parking lot all day until sheriff's deputies and firefighters were called to help some passengers who were fainting in the heat. Even the bus driver, who hadn't eaten or drank enough water, passed out as well.
"They stood there under the sun, all day," Luz Mendez said.
Passengers said the heroes turned out to be the American Red Cross. The agency showed up and managed to load all the passengers into school buses.
They took them to get a shower and to a restaurant to eat.
"They did so much for us," India Albelo Mendez said. "Just to be able to take a shower meant a lot."
Passengers tried repeatedly to call the company that booked the trip, New York-based ABC Bus, but couldn't reach anyone there.
Channel 9 contacted the company in New York on Wednesday afternoon. Spokeswoman Cindy Lin said they would refund the ticket for every passenger.
Channel 9 asked her why a replacement bus was never sent.
"We were trying to find a local bus that was closer to them, but there wasn't one," Lin said. "Sending a bus from New York would be too far away, and would've taken hours.
The company eventually arranged for a Greyhound bus to pick up their passengers, and finish the trip.
They arrived in Manhattan around 4 a.m. Wednesday, a full day late.
A ticket on the Charlotte to New York bus costs $60, and passengers are picked up in a strip mall parking lot on North Tryon Street. There's no building there, and no bus stop sign either.
Mendez said it's the only way her daughter could afford to travel, and bring her four children back to Rock Hill.
She's not sure what her daughter will do now.
"I might have to drive back there and pick them up myself, because I'm not going to have my grandkids going through this," she said. "They just don't care. Once they get their money, they don't care about what happens."
ABC Bus said they rent their buses, and are not responsible for their maintenance and upkeep.