School bus crash with dump truck turns fa­tal

The Mercury (Pottstown, PA) - - FRONT PAGE - By David Porter, Michael R. Sisak and Seth Wenig

MOUNT OLIVE, N.J. » A school bus tak­ing chil­dren on a field trip to a New Jer­sey historic site col­lided with a dump truck Thurs­day, rip­ping the bus apart and killing a teacher and stu­dent.

The crash left the bus ly­ing on its side on the guardrail of In­ter­state 80 in Mount Olive, its un­der­car­riage and front end sheared off and its steer­ing wheel ex­posed. Some of the vic­tims crawled out of the emer­gency exit in the back and an es­cape hatch on the roof. More than 40 peo­ple were taken to area hos­pi­tals.

“I heard a scrap­ing sound and we top­pled over the high­way,” said fifth-grade stu­dent Theo Ancevski, who was sit­ting in the fourth row of the bus and was treated at a hos­pi­tal for cuts and scrapes. “A lot of peo­ple were scream­ing and hang­ing from their seat­belts.”

New Jer­sey Gov. Phil Mur­phy said that one adult and one stu­dent were killed. Mur­phy said the truck driver was hos­pi­tal­ized, but of­fi­cials didn’t reveal his con­di­tion.

The front end of the red dump truck was man­gled in the wreck, which took place about 50 miles (80 kilo­me­ters) west of New York. The truck was regis­tered to Men­dez Truck­ing, of Belleville, and had “In God We Trust” em­bla­zoned on the back of it.

Po­lice didn’t re­lease de­tails of how the crash hap­pened, but the truck­ing com­pany had a string of crashes in re­cent years and a higher than av­er­age rate of vi­o­la­tions that side­lined its ve­hi­cles, ac­cord­ing to fed­eral safety data.

There were 45 peo­ple, in­clud­ing 38 stu­dents, on the bus. Forty-three peo­ple from the bus and the truck driver were taken to three area hos­pi­tals, where some were listed in crit­i­cal con­di­tion.

The bus was owned by the school dis­trict and had seat belts, ac­cord­ing to Para­mus schools su­per­in­ten­dent Michele Robin­son. There is no fed­eral re­quire­ment for seat belts on full-sized school buses, but six states in­clud­ing New Jer­sey re­quire them.

The bus was one of three tak­ing stu­dents from East Brook Mid­dle School to Water­loo Vil­lage, a historic site de­pict­ing a Le­nape In­dian com­mu­nity and once-thriv­ing port about 5 miles from the crash scene. The other buses made it to the site, but re­turned to the school about 50 miles (80 kilo­me­ters) away.

Some of the chil­dren were in­side the bus and some out­side when first re­spon­ders arrived, ac­cord­ing to Jeff Paul, di­rec­tor of the Mor­ris County Of­fice of Emer­gency Man­age­ment.

“We had pa­tients lay­ing all over the me­dian and on the in­ter­state,” Paul said. “There were all kinds of in­juries, ev­ery in­jury type you could ex­pect in a crash of his mag­ni­tude.”

Paul said some of the first re­spon­ders were “very emo­tion­ally up­set. It was a rough scene to see.”

Thuy Nguyen, a nurse from Para­mus, said she rushed to the school where her son was tak­ing a test af­ter hear­ing the news.

“My heart just dropped, You hear the name of the school...” she said be­fore trail­ing off.

Robin­son said that the dis­trict was can­celling school trips for the rest of the year.

Men­dez Truck­ing has about 40 driv­ers and trucks, ac­cord­ing to the Fed­eral Mo­tor Car­rier Safety Ad­min­is­tra­tion. Its trucks have been in seven crashes in the last two years, none be­fore Thurs­day’s fa­tal, ac­cord­ing to FMCSA. A mes­sage left with the com­pany wasn’t re­turned.

Men­dez has a higher than av­er­age ve­hi­cle out-of-ser­vice rate, which means in­spec­tions found vi­o­la­tions which had to be cor­rected be­fore the ve­hi­cle could be re­turned to ser­vice. Men­dez’s rate was 37.9 per­cent, ac­cord­ing to FMCSA. The na­tional av­er­age is 20.7.

“It’s an alarm­ingly high ac­ci­dent rate for such a small, lit­tle fleet,” said truck­ing safety ex­pert Paul Her­bert, who runs the Western Mo­tor Car­rier Safety In­sti­tute in Cal­i­for­nia. “These (pre­vi­ous ac­ci­dents) should be eye­open­ers for the com­pany, for them to say, ‘hey, we need to do some­thing be­fore the big one hap­pens.’ Sadly, it looks like maybe it has.”

A Men­dez-owned dump truck driven by a driver po­lice say had a sus­pended li­cense struck and killed a French fash­ion stylist in Man­hat­tan in Jan­uary 2011, ac­cord­ing to court records. Lau­rence Re­nard was sev­ered in half by the truck, which was haul­ing tons of ma­te­rial for the Sec­ond Av­enue Sub­way project.

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