By Camilo Smith
Fourteen people died in a casino tour bus accident on the New England Thruway early Saturday morning after the bus collided with a tractor tailor and skidded to a stop at the entrance to the Hutchinson Parkway near Co-Op City, authorities said. A 15th victim died later.
A total of 32 passengers were on the bus that was headed to Manhattan after a Connecticut gambling trip. Local media reports said 13 people died at the scene. Another passenger died after being rushed to Jacobi Hospital. Police said passengers ranged in age from 20 to 50.
Joe Conzo, a veteran New York City Fire Department Emergency Medical Technician, spoke with many of the emergency personnel from the Battalion 18 fire department station in East Tremont, where he works.
“Most of my guys that were on the scene got put off of service,” he said referring to first responders who took off work to see grief counselors. “They did their job, they transported victims, brought bodies out of the wreck.”
Conzo wasn’t at the scene but said the words used by his fellow EMT’s to describe the crash scene were “complete carnage.”
Media reports described body parts and limbs severed by jagged metal torn from the bus as its roof was sliced in two by the signpost for Exit 14, the Hutchinson Parkway. The New York Times reported that at least one person was decapitated in the accident.
World Wide Tours in Brooklyn operates the overnight gambling bus that made a trip to the Mohegan Sun casino in Connecticut and was returning to Chinatown. A statement by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said that most of the passengers were Chinese. The tour bus company released a statement expressing sympathy for the crash victims.
It wasn’t immediately known if any of the passengers were Bronx residents.
Police say there was a tractor-trailer in the lane adjacent to the bus before it crashed, but are still piecing together the exact chain of events. ”The truck either starts to swerve, or perhaps even hits the bus, we’re not certain at this time,” said Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly at a press conference earlier today. “In the effort to avoid that activity the bus driver swerves all the way over to the right, he strikes the guardrail, the bus goes down along the guard rail,” he added.
Of the 19 injured victims, according to reports, 14 were taken to Jacobi Medical Center. Five were taken to St. Barnabas Hospital, including the bus driver, according to Conzo. Media reports say much of the impact was felt toward the front of the bus, but Conzo said the driver survived probably because he was using his seat belt.
Police reports said authorities are investigating whether or not the crash was caused by the tractor-trailer driver who clipped the front of the bus.
The southbound portion of the New England Thruway between Exit 14 and 15 had been closed since around 6 a.m., but finally re-opened by the evening.
You can watch part of the press conference courtesy of the Associated Press: