Passengers recall terrifying New Jersey bus crash
Published Sunday, October 7, 2012 11:05AM EDT
Last Updated Sunday, October 7, 2012 9:59PM EDT
Passengers described a scene of chaos and confusion after a Toronto tour bus flipped on a New Jersey highway ramp en route to New York.
“The bus was laying on its side. There was no window and the door was still closed, so people wanted to get out,” passenger Warren Lawrence told CTV News on Sunday.
Lawrence helped pull 15 people to safety through the vehicle’s roof as it lay on its side in a small marsh off the highway.
The Saturday afternoon crash sent 23 of 57 passengers on board to hospital, eight with critical injuries.
Officials said on Sunday that only three remain in hospital and are listed in fair condition.
Toronto resident Cheryl Samuel said her sister Leonie was on the bus when she noticed the driver veering on the roadway.
“She saw the bus coming into the accident and the only thing that she could have done was hold on to the seat in front of her and just hug it for her dear life,” Samuel told CTV Toronto.
As news broke of the accident, Samuel was hoping her sister was not on the chartered bus that was making its way to a Seventh Day Adventist event in Brooklyn.
“Once it stopped she was standing on top of an individual on the other side of the bus,” said Samuel, adding that her sister was lucky to walk away from the accident without a scratch.
“It’s very good to be able to say that my only sister is alive,” she said.
Passenger Donna Broones said she felt some commotion and suddenly the bus was on its side.
“I just grabbed onto the seat ahead of me,” she said.
Broones’ grandmother, Leona, said the crash caused someone to fall on top of her.
“I said, “Oh my God, what is this?’” she said. “I was laying on the floor. Someone was still on top of me, so someone had to pull me up off the floor."
Broken window frames pinned down a number of passengers, until rescuers were able to free them.
U.S. state troopers say it will take at least two weeks before they determine what caused the tour bus to lose control and flip on the interstate off ramp in Wayne, N.J., just 25 kilometres north of New York City.
"The investigators are going to look at everything," New Jersey state police Sgt. Adam Grossman said Sunday.
"They're going to look at road conditions, weather, traffic. They're going to look at if there were any mechanical issues with the bus, look at the driver."
The bus driver, identified as Brampton resident Neville Larmond, told authorities that he veered off the highway after he was cut off by another vehicle, but officers have not confirmed the cause of the crash.
"If that's the statement he gave, that will be something we will investigate and try to corroborate any witness statements," said Grossman.
Police couldn’t say if they were dealing with a criminal investigation, or simply an accident.
CTV Washington Correspondent Joy Malbon told CTV News Channel it’s possible that charges could be laid depending on what the investigation turns up.
According to investigators, the bus was rented by a Toronto-based company called Cynthia’s Bus Tours from AVM Max 2000 Charter Services Inc.
U.S. Department of Transportation online records show that a company registered under the name AYM Max 2000 Charter Services Inc. did not have “current operating authority” in the U.S.
Both companies, AVM Max 2000 Charter Services Inc. and AYM Max 2000 Charter Services Inc., are listed under the same Toronto address and phone number.
According to the records AYM Max 2000 had been cited five times since April 2011 for fatigued driving violations. In one instance a driver had been allowed to work for more than 11 hours.
Multiple phone calls made by CP to the Toronto-based bus company and the U.S. transportation department were not returned Sunday.
Malbon also said that authorities believe the crash could have been much worse.
“This part of the intersection is known as locally as “The spaghetti bowl” because there are so many lanes, exits and entrances going this way and that way and often it can be very confusing,” she said in an interview Sunday.
Officials said the crash would have been worse had the bus smashed into a pole or veered into oncoming traffic, said Malbon.
With reports from CTV’s Joy Malbon, CTV Toronto and files from The Canadian Press