A New Jersey bus driver accused of losing control of his bus while he was on the phone, crashing into a light pole that fell on an 8-month-old baby girl, had numerous previous traffic charges that somehow never raised a red flag, authorities said.
Recordings of 911 calls from Tuesday's crash revealed witnesses begging for an ambulance during the anguishing minutes after 48-year-old Idowu Daramola struck the pole while allegedly using his cellphone and speeding.
Daramola, of Queens, was arraigned Thursday on charges of reckless driving, using a cell phone while operating a vehicle and death by auto.
He did not enter a plea during his appearance Thursday in state court in Jersey City. He said he had not yet been able to retain an attorney. His bail was set at $250,000.
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Daramola had open warrants for traffic charges that he failed to appear in court for, according to authorities. The outstanding warrants were for speeding, improperly letting off passengers and failing to stop at a stop sign in 2011, and a red-light camera violation last year.
Although most of Daramola’s bus driving occurred in the state of New Jersey, the driver is a resident of Queens. His commercial driver license was issued by New York.
Deisy Bello, the court administrator for West New York, said New Jersey's Motor Vehicle Commission automatically suspended his license and driving privileges when he failed to appear in court on one of his violations. New York's Department of Motor Vehicles should also have received notice.
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"After 9/11, there was an interstate compact that says the DMV in New Jersey is supposed to contact other states and other states are supposed to contact us," said Bello.
Despite the reciprocal agreement, New York’s DMV did not get notice that Daramola had run afoul of the law in New Jersey.
"Mr. Daramola has a full and valid NYS commercial driver license,” said Peter Bucci, a spokesman for the New York State DMV. "There are no accidents or violations on his public driving record."
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"He slipped through the system," said Hudson County Sheriff Frank Schillari.
The New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission did not respond to questions about what communications were made with New York regarding Daramola’s traffic violations and arrest warrants.
Casey Raskob, a New York-based lawyer who represents people accused of motor vehicle infractions, says communication errors between states often happen because of typos or data input errors on out-of-state warrants and other law enforcement documents. On the arrest warrant for Idowu Daramola issued in West New York – the one Bello said resulted in a suspension of his New Jersey driving privileges – Daramola’s first name is spelled incorrectly.
"I notice his name is spelled beginning with a ‘J’ on this one, and on the other his name begins with an ‘I.' If you’re dealing with somebody across state lines frequently a small error in the spelling of one’s name can cause things to get lost," Raskob said.
Even if New Jersey had notified New York about Daramola’s infractions and outstanding warrants, it’s not clear New York would have taken action to suspend his license.
"In this case, the offenses committed in New Jersey that we know about are neither disqualifying nor serious driving offenses,” Bucci said.
Bucci did not say whether the reciprocal agreement between states requires New York to suspend a driver’s license when she or he is suspended in another state for non-driving offenses, like skipping court.
On the phone Wednesday, the bus company owner Magdy Abdallah told NBC 4 New York he was never aware of any open warrants for Daramola, who had been employed there two years and had a valid driver's license when he was hired.
Schillari said Thursday he ordered a "massive crackdown'' on the buses, telling deputies to conduct random stops to ensure the operators have proper insurance and the drivers' licenses are valid. A sheriff's office spokesman said officers pulled over a jitney bus after it ran a red light and found the driver had a suspended license.
Schillari said officers will also sit on major thoroughfares and watch to ensure bus drivers obey traffic laws and are not using cellphones. The buses are operated by private companies and ferry commuters from the heavily congested suburbs of northern New Jersey into New York City.
The mother of baby Angelie Paredes was pushing the stroller on the sidewalk along East Boulevard in West New York, N.J., when the light pole came down.
A spokesman for Paredes' parents said the mother and child were "as far as you can be from the curb" when the baby was struck.
In 911 calls obtained by the Star-Ledger of Newark, horrified callers begged for an ambulance after the pole fell on the stroller. One woman is heard saying: "The ambulance just got there. It took so long."
One man said at least five or six minutes elapsed and there was no doctor or ambulance. Another said about 10 minutes had elapsed.
A spokesman for the Hudson County Sheriff's Office told the newspaper an ambulance responded within nine minutes.