A tour bus crash led to the tragic deaths of 15 people and injury to several others in New York City.
Somehow, a Worldwide Tours bus flipped on its side in transit, and slid down NYC’s I-95 and ran into a pole early Saturday morning. The pole then ripped through the top of the bus (along the window line) down almost the entire length of the vehicle. In addition to killing and critically injuring several passengers, 11 others suffered minor injuries. The bus was said to be carrying a little over 30 people.
The driver of the bus, Ophadell Williams, claims that he was driven off the highway by a huge transportation truck just before the tragic incident. However, witnesses tell police that Williams was speeding just before the crash. The passengers on the bus were returning to New York’s Chinatown from an overnight trip to the Mohegan Sun casino in Connecticut.
Captain Matthew Galvin of the NYPD’s emergency service unit was one of the first rescuers on the scene. He said officers found “bodies everywhere” clambered into the wreckage. “People were moaning and screaming for help,” he said. Galvin said that in his 22 years on the job, “it’s probably the worst accident I’ve ever seen in terms of the human toll.”
Around 20 passengers were treated at hospitals. Eight were in a serious condition. The crash happened at 5.35am on Saturday, while some of the 31 passengers were still asleep. The bus scraped along the highway’s guard rail for 90 metres, then toppled and crashed into the support pole for a highway sign indicating the exit for the Hutchinson Parkway.
The pole peeled off the roof of the bus all the way to the back tyres. Most passengers were hurled to the front of the bus on impact, fire department chief Edward Kilduff said. The southbound lanes of the I-95 highway were closed for hours while emergency workers tended to survivors and removed bodies.
Major Michael Kopy, of the state police, told news media on Saturday night that the crash was being handled “as if it is a criminal investigation”, adding: “It will take a long period of time to determine what, if any, criminal acts may have occurred here.” Kopy said witnesses reported that the bus driver had been speeding on the I-95 highway, where the limit is 55mph (90kph).
He said the driver, Williams, 40, from Brooklyn in New York, was treated for non-life-threatening injuries and blood had been drawn for analysis. Kopy said state police were working with authorities in Connecticut and officials at Mohegan Sun to determine what the driver’s activities were before the accident. “At this point it appears that the operator lost control of the vehicle for what is as yet an undetermined reason,” Kopy said. He declined to identify the passengers or to describe their injuries, but added: “The pole did go through the top half of the bus.”
Chung Ninh, 59, told the New York Times and NY1 News that he had been asleep, then suddenly found himself hanging upside-down from his seat belt. He described one man bleeding from a severed arm. Ninh said that when he tried to help one bloodied woman, the driver told him to stop, because she was dead. “Help another one,” he said the driver told him. Another passenger, Jose Hernandez, 49, said he also was asleep. “We tried to help people, but there was twisted metal in the way,” he told the Times.
The NYPD’s Commissioner Raymond Kelly said on Saturday that the lorry, which did not stop after the crash, was in the lane to the left of the bus, although it was unclear whether the two vehicles touched. Homer Martinez was at the scene moments after the incident and said other drivers ran from their cars to help the injured. State police said they were interviewing the driver of a lorry that was in the area at the time of the crash. They said the trailer had been found on Long Island, New York State, and the tractor was in Westchester County, about 50 miles away. Both were being inspected.
The bus, a 1999 Prevost, was being inspected at a New York state police barracks. Video from a camera on the bus had been obtained by authorities, but not yet analysed, Kopy said. He said investigators were trying to determine the speed the bus was travelling at and that a device that can record such information, similar to a flight data recorder, was expected to be examined overnight.
“People were saying, ‘Oh my God. Oh my God,’ holding their hands on their heads,” Martinez said. “I saw people telling other people not to go there, ‘You don’t want to see this’.” Christopher Hart, the vice chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, said an investigation team would be looking at the bus company’s safety programmes, including those involving driver fatigue, as well as highway design and the bus itself.
Many of the passengers were from Chinatown, ranging in age from 20 to 50. Fifteen were being treated at Jacobi Medical Centre in the Bronx. A hospital spokeswoman, Barbara DeIorio, said some injuries were serious but she gave no numbers. Five more were taken to St Barnabas hospital where two were breathing with the help of machines. “We’ve had skull fractures, rib fractures … internal bleeding, we’ve had lung contusions,” said Dr Ernest Patti, adding that the bus driver was “awake and conscious”.
World Wide Travel of Greater New York, the operator of the bus, said it in a statement that the company was “heartbroken” and co-operating with investigators. “We are a family-owned company and realise words cannot begin to express our sorrow to the families of those who lost their lives or were injured in this tragic accident. Our thoughts and prayers are with them,” it said.
Federal records showed that World Wide Travel had at least two other accidents in the past 24 months in which people were injured. The company was also flagged for possible extra scrutiny due to violations involving driver fatigue regulations. The bus was one of scores that travel daily between Chinatown, in Manhattan, and the Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun casinos in south-eastern Connecticut.
WOW! First the earthquake/tsunami in Japan … and now THIS?! Times are getting real rough out there folks. REAL ROUGH. And if that bus driver had ANYTHING to do with this … then we hope he gets punished in a major way!