Long Island Bus Crash

Sophia Hall/WCBS 880

Dozens Hurt After Bus Crashes Into Southern State Parkway Overpass

April 09, 2018 - 2:37 pm

LAKEVIEW, N.Y. (WCBS 880/AP) -- Lawmakers are demanding answers after a charter bus carrying teenagers returning from a spring break trip Sunday night struck a bridge overpass on Long Island, injuring 44 people, including the driver, and mangling the entire length of the top of the bus.

The crash happened shortly after 9 p.m. Sunday on the Southern State Parkway, where commercial traffic is prohibited.

The 38 students from various Long Island high schools, along with five chaperones, had just returned from a European vacation and were making their way from John F. Kennedy International Airport to the Walt Whitman Mall in Huntington to meet up with parents when the crash occurred, police said.

Video shows teenagers sitting and standing outside of the white damaged bus, some draped in blankets, as firefighters inspect the wreckage. Multiple ambulances and fire trucks responded to the scene.

“We’re very lucky,” Candelaria said. “This could have been tragic.”

The bus driver and all of the passengers were taken to several area hospital. Two 17-year-old girls suffered serious injuries and remain hospitalized. The superintendent of Huntginton High School said in a statement that several students were among those injured and student support staff will be on hand for those in need.

"A piece of metal from the roof of the thing came down and almost hit me right in my side, it just missed me and it ripped my pants," said 16-year-old Huntington High School student Dominick Stanley. "I just see the roof just start to completely cave in and I smell and start tasting fiberglass in my mouth, and I hold out my hands and I feel glass coming on my hands."

"After the fact I was thinking, 'Wow, I can't believe I'm actually alive to say this,'" 16-year-old Matthew Quinn said.

Police said the driver did not seem to be familiar with commercial vehicle restrictions on the parkway.

"This driver is not from the Long Island area, so he obviously wasn't aware of the parkway system," Candelaria said.

Police say the driver didn't brake before hitting the low-hanging overpass in Lakeview. State police Major David Candelaria told a news conference on Monday that the driver apparently was unaware of the restriction despite roadside signs warning about it.

Seventeen-year-old student Jerry Mata said another motorist was honking at them, trying to warn the bus driver to get off the parkway, but it was too late.

"It was a car beeping at us and I know from there that we're not supposed to be here," said Mata, who managed to get out of the bus through the roof after the crash. "Thank God there was a hole up where I was. I got out and I tried to take out as many people as I could. There's no words that can explain what we felt."

The Eagle Avenue overpass is one of the lowest on the parkway.

A sign posted by the state on the overpass says the clearance is 7 feet, 7 inches. The height of the bus was believed to be about 12 feet.

In 2012, Sen. Charles Schumer said held a press conference on the bridge where the bus crash happened and talked about special GPS devices that can be installed and buses and semi trucks that tells drivers their vehicles are too tall to continue.

"This is not a new problem. We can have systems, GPS systems that warn bus drivers and truck drivers of the height of any overpass," Schumer said. "If you knew you were a bus that had 13 feet of clearance and the bridges were 12 feet you wouldn't use that highway."

Schumer said with technology that is available the bus crash should have never happened.

"The $64,000 question is why did the bus driver use this route? Did the company install the proper GPS system so he would know the height? If they didn't they should be held culpable," Schumer said. "This bus driver should have never been using the Southern State and the GPS system was available to tell him that."

The driver has been identified as 43-year-old Troy Gaston of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. He has a valid Pennsylvania commercial vehicle driver’s License.  Police said he was using a store-bought, non-commercial vehicle GPS device that planned a route taking him onto the Belt and Southern State parkways.

There was no alcohol in his system and a drug test is pending.

Westchester Assemblyman Tom Abinanti said the crash proves once again not enough is being done to keep oversized vehicles off of New York parkways. He said a picture of a truck with a red line through it is insufficient and he believes there should be signs that state plainly "that no vehicle over a certain height is permitted on the parkway because of low bridges."

"I think it it has to be very simple right up front," Abinanti said. "If you have a sign that says 'no trucks,' that does not inform an out-of-state bus driver. If you have a sign that says 'no commercial vehicles,' that does not inform an out-of-state bus driver."

Accidents involving vehicles striking overpasses is not uncommon on the parkway. State Department of Transportation has been installing infrared over-height sensors and warning signs at key locations on parkways. But, they're not everywhere. Abinanti has repeatedly called for flexible height barriers at all entrances. 

The bus, operated by Journey Bus Lines in Irvington, New Jersey, did not comment.

The National Transportation Safety Board is monitoring the crash.

(Copyright 2018 WCBS 880. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)