School bus col­lides with truck, killing teacher and stu­dent

The Trentonian (Trenton, NJ) - - NEWS - 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 of the bus 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 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 driver of the truck was alive at the hos­pi­tal, 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.

The bus was owned by the school dis­trict and equipped with seat belts, ac­cord­ing to Para­mus schools su­per­in­ten­dent Michele Robin­son.

The bus was 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.

Some of the chil­dren were still in­side the bus and some were 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.”

Zainab Qureshi, 11, told The Record she was on one of the two buses not in­volved in the crash. She said those two buses made it to Water­loo Vil­lage, but they were told by teach­ers and chap­er­ones about a half hour later that they had to re­turn to school be­cause of bad weather.

Stu­dents on two other buses on the field trip re­turned to the school about 50 miles (80 kilo­me­ters) from the crash site and were re­united with their par­ents. Qureshi said stu­dents on the other buses didn’t find out about the crash un­til they ar­rived back at school.

Thuy Nguyen, a nurse from Para­mus, was leav­ing the school with her eighth­grade son who was back at the school tak­ing a stan­dard­ized test and not in the bus. She said she rushed to the school af­ter hear­ing the news.

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

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

Men­dez was fined $22,850 in 2016 for vi­o­lat­ing reg­u­la­tions on in­spec­tions, re­pairs and main­te­nance and post-crash drug and al­co­hol test­ing, ac­cord­ing to the FMCSA.

Men­dez trucks have racked up more than 130 vi­o­la­tions in the last two years, ac­cord­ing to FMCSA, in­clud­ing 27 for ex­ces­sive weight, 17 for leak­ing, spilling or fall­ing cargo and four speed­ing vi­o­la­tions — three of them this year.

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.

Ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional High­way Traf­fic Safety Ad­min­is­tra­tion, 118 peo­ple on school buses were killed in crashes from 20072016, the last year for which data is avail­able.

Of those killed, 68 were pas­sen­gers — in­clud­ing 58 school-age chil­dren — and 50 were driv­ers. School bus crashes killed 902 peo­ple in other ve­hi­cles over that span.

BOB KARP — THE DAILY RECORD VIA AP

Emer­gency per­son­nel ex­am­ine a school bus af­ter it col­lided with a dump truck, in­jur­ing mul­ti­ple peo­ple, on In­ter­state 80 in Mount Olive, N.J., Thurs­day.

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