State police are investigating what caused a tour bus returning to Queens from a Connecticut casino to slam into a guardrail and then a concrete wall on I-95 in New Rochelle early Wednesday, injuring dozens and wreaking havoc on traffic.
The bus company, Star Tag, has been cited four times for driver fatigue-related issues since March 2011, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. It has also been cited three times for speeding in the last two years, though have been no reportable accidents and Star Tag has been given a satisfactory safety rating, the agency says.
Authorities said no other vehicles appeared to be involved in the accident between exits 15 and 16 at about 6:30 a.m. Wednesday. Multiple lanes on the highway were blocked off as authorities transported two dozen passengers, most of whom suffered minor neck, back and head injuries, to hospitals and tried to piece together what happened.
State Police Captain Evelyn Mallard said the bus was heading from Foxwoods casino to Flushing when it hit the center guardrail while traveling south on I-95. The forceful impact sent it veering right across three lanes and smack into a concrete wall a tenth of a mile away. No other vehicles were hit.
At some point, the bus driver got out of the vehicle or was ejected, Mallard said. When police found him, he was bleeding, but conscious and alert. Other passengers were described as the "walking wounded."
One woman suffered some nerve damage and a sprain in the crash. Her grandson, Kenny Thongpanich, says she has trouble moving her fingers.
Mallard said the speed of the bus when it first struck the guardrail was unknown. It also wasn't known if the driver was cut off or fell asleep, or if the weather played a role, but she said the accident could have been far worse.
New Rochelle Deputy Fire Chief Robert Benz said the bus remained in gear after hitting the concrete wall and was still coasting on the highway. A state trooper moved his cruiser in front of the bus to bring it to a halt, investigators said.
The bus was headed for a hill and if it hadn't been stopped, "it would have been catastrophic," said Mallard.
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