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14 die in tour bus crash on I-95 in NYC

Passengers were returning home after casino visit

Emergency workers investigated the scene of a bus crash on Interstate 95 in the Bronx yesterday. The bus flipped onto its side and was sliced in half by a pole. Emergency workers investigated the scene of a bus crash on Interstate 95 in the Bronx yesterday. The bus flipped onto its side and was sliced in half by a pole. (David Karp/ Associated Press)
By Jim Fitzgerald and Tom Hays
Associated Press / March 13, 2011

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HAWTHORNE, N.Y. — A tour bus returning from a casino at daybreak yesterday scraped along a guardrail, tipped on its side, and slammed into a pole that sheared it nearly end to end, leaving a jumble of bodies and twisted metal along Interstate 95. Fourteen passengers were killed.

The bus had just reached the outskirts of New York City on a journey from the Mohegan Sun casino in Connecticut when the crash happened. The driver told police he lost control trying to avoid a swerving tractor-trailer.

As many as 20 passengers were treated at area hospitals. Eight were in serious condition, according to police. Several were in surgery later in the day.

The crash happened at 5:35 a.m., with some of the 31 passengers still asleep. The bus scraped along the guardrail for 300 feet, toppled, and crashed into the support pole for a highway sign indicating the exit for the Hutchinson Parkway.

The pole knifed through the bus front to back along the window line, peeling the roof off all the way to the back tires. Most people aboard were hurled to the front of the bus on impact, said Chief Edward Kilduff of the New York Fire Department.

The southbound lanes of the highway were closed for hours while emergency workers tended to survivors and removed bodies.

State Police Major Micheal Kopy said at a news conference last night in Hawthorne, N.Y., that the crash was being handled “as if it is a criminal investigation.’’

“It will take a long period of time to determine what, if any, criminal acts may have occurred here,’’ he said.

He identified the driver as Ophadel Williams, 40, of Brooklyn, N.Y., whom he said was hospitalized with injuries that were not life-threatening. Kopy said blood had been drawn from the driver for analysis and that State Police were working with authorities in Connecticut and Mohegan Sun officials to determine the driver’s activities before the accident.

Chung Ninh, 59, told The New York Times and NY1 News that he had been asleep in his seat, then suddenly found himself hanging upside-down from his seat belt, surrounded by the dead and screaming. One man bled from a severed arm.

Ninh said when he tried to help one bloodied woman, the driver told him to stop, because she was dead. “Forget this one. Help another one,’’ he said the driver told him. He said he and other passengers climbed out through a skylight.

New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said police were looking for the truck, which did not stop after the crash.

Kelly said both the bus and the rig were both moving at “a significant rate of speed.’’

State Police said they were interviewing the driver of a tractor-trailer that was in the area at the time of the crash.

Video from a camera on the bus had been obtained by authorities but not yet analyzed, Kopy said.

Limo driver Homer Martinez happened on the scene moments after the wreck and saw other drivers sprinting from their cars to assist the injured.

“People were saying, ‘Oh my God. Oh my God,’ holding their hands on their heads,’’ Martinez said. “I saw people telling other people not to go there, ‘You don’t want to see this.’ ’’

Captain Matthew Galvin of the NYPD’s Emergency Service Unit was one of the first rescuers on the scene. He said when officers clambered into the wreckage, they found “bodies everywhere.’’

Though dazed, about seven people were able to walk away on their own, he said. Galvin said that in his 22 years on the job, “It’s probably the worst accident I’ve ever seen in terms of the human toll.’’

The National Transportation Safety Board said it was sending a team of investigators.

Passengers on the bus ranged in age from 20 to 50, officials said.

Fifteen were being treated at Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx. Five more were taken to St. Barnabas Hospital, where two were on life support, breathing with the assistance of machines.

World Wide Travel, the operator of the bus, said it in a statement that the company was “heartbroken’’ and cooperating with investigators.

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