State Police identify bus driver in crash

State Police today identified the driver of a bus that crashed into the Western Avenue Bridge in Boston on Saturday night, injuring 35 passengers, including four seriously, as a 66-year-old Philadelphia man.

Samuel J. Jackson, 66, has not been charged but the investigation remains active, said David Procopio, a State Police spokesman.

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A call to a number listed for Jackson in Philadelphia was not immediately returned, and his whereabouts could not be determined. Procopio said Jackson is free to leave the state because he has not been charged with a crime.

The passengers were high school students and their chaperones who were returning home to Pennsylvania after touring Harvard University on the bus owned by the Philadelphia-based bus company Calvary Coach.

Raymond Talmadge, owner of Calvary Coach, told a television station that Jackson may have been checking his GPS at the time of the crash.

“He said he looked at the GPS, looked down to make the turn and when he looked back up, the bridge was a low bridge, he hit the low bridge,” Talmadge told ABC-6 TV in Philadelphia.

Procopio declined to comment on that report, saying in an email that he does not “want to comment on specific alleged statements.”

Talmadge did not immediately return messages seeking comment today. He told the Globe on Saturday night that Jackson is a “very, very good driver.”

Procopio today put the injured tally at 35 passengers and said State Police are not yet releasing the names or ages of any of the victims.

He said authorities will conduct a thorough examination of the bus today, and a collision reconstruction team’s report will take up to six weeks to complete.

He said on Saturday that State Police believe Jackson may have missed the sign prohibiting the bus from traveling on the roadway, due to the height of the bridge.

Signs prohibiting buses and trucks were visible this morning at the entrance to Soldiers Field Road from the Western Avenue Bridge, and a yellow sign stating the 10-foot clearance height of the bridge could been seen on the underpass entrance traveling east on the road, the route the bus was traveling.

The scene was clear late this morning, with only a bit of shattered glass visible near the crash site. A new, green portion of the center median guardrail heading under the bridge was in place.

State Police said they had to remove a section of the guardrail to get the bus off the road, and that there was no structural damage to the bridge.

The westbound lanes of Soldiers Field Road reopened this morning as of 3:30 a.m., State Police said, and authorities kept the eastbound lane closed overnight in order to repair the guardrail. It reopened at about 7:15 a.m.

The crash occurred Saturday at about 7:30 p.m. when the charter bus tried to drive east under the Western Avenue overpass without enough space to clear it, officials said.

Three passengers were seriously injured and one other person suffered life-threatening injuries, said Boston EMS spokeswoman Jennifer Mehigan Saturday night. She said the remaining passengers who were hurt were treated for minor injuries.

Curtis Hill, a member of Destined for a Dream Foundation, a Pennsylvania-based non-profit that organized the trip, said today in a phone interview that the organization is still trying to gather information about the injured passengers.

“To my knowledge, I do know that some are released,” said Hill, adding that he did not know their current whereabouts or when they would begin the trip home.

He also said he did not know the status of the four passengers who suffered serious injuries or whether they were students or adults.

“We’re still in the process of trying to find that information,” Hill said.

Sara Lavoie, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Transportation, said in an email that agency inspectors determined at the scene Saturday night that the bridge is structurally sound. She said the bridge is due for rehabilitation next year as part of the state’s Accelerated Bridge Program.

She referred a reporter to the state Department of Conservation and Recreation, which owns the roadway, for data about the number of “overheights,” or close calls between bridges and trucks and buses in the area.

Lavoie said in an email that “within the Central Artery tunnel system we log [about] 10,000 overheight vehicle detections each year—that doesn’t mean there were 10,000 strikes, but these vehicles tripped our sensors that many times. The sensors trigger a message on our electronic signs and say either—take next exit, or stop [and] await police depending on the overheight’s location.”

SJ Port, a spokeswoman for the conservation department, said the agency does not track the number of such incidents.

However, she said officials are seeing an uptick that could be tied to GPS devices, which typically do not alert drivers to height restrictions in upcoming bridges.

She said the department usually sees accidents involving “box trucks or rental vehicles that the average driver is not used to driving—these bigger, 10-foot and plus trucks—whereas a bus driver is an unusual instance.”

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