The driver of a bus that slammed into a Long Island bridge overpass, injuring students returning from a European jaunt, was using a “noncommercial vehicle GPS device” that led him astray to the Southern State Parkway, state police said.
State Police Maj. David Candelaria said Monday “that either a chaperone or the bus driver said ‘duck!’” just before the crash that seriously injured two 17-year-old girls who remained hospitalized, Newsday reported.
Charter bus was 4 feet taller than overpass it slammed into
The charter bus that slammed into a Long Island bridge… Driver Troy Gaston of Bethlehem, Pa., picked up the 38 students and five chaperones from JFK Airport and started off on the Belt Parkway before entering eastbound Southern, Candelaria said.
According to a preliminary probe, there were “no signs of braking, stopping, anything like that,” he said. “No one was screaming, saying, ‘Get off the parkway! Get off the parkway!’ ”
Gaston, 43, who holds a valid Pennsylvania commercial driver’s license, voluntarily provided a blood sample, which showed no trace of alcohol, police said. Testing was underway for drugs.
No charges have been lodged against Gaston, who showed “tremendous remorse” at the scene, Candelaria said.
The 2000 Prevost bus he was driving was about 4 feet taller than the overpass, causing the entire length of its roof to be sheared off in the accident in Lakeview, police said.
“There was glass everywhere. The roof of the bus is down to the top of the seat covers,” Lakeview Fire Chief Patrick McNeill told Newsday.
Gaston did not seem to be familiar with commercial vehicle restrictions on the parkway, where a sign posted at the overpass says the clearance is 7 feet, 7 inches.
“I know that this is the lowest, probably, on the whole parkway system, this specific bridge,” Candelaria said.
The driver was apparently using “a stand-alone GPS that you buy from a department store,” he said.
The high school students involved in the bus crash.
Stephen Martinez, 50, of Huntington, whose daughter was on the ill-fated bus, said the driver should have known better.
“You would think that driver — there’s signs everywhere — if he drives for a living, these are the things he’s required to know,” Martinez told Newsday.
In 2017, there were reports that an electronic alarm system would be installed on the parkway to warn drivers of vehicles too high for the overpass.
A spokesman for Journey Bus Lines, based in Irvington, NJ, said everyone at the company was upset over the incident.
“We’re concerned about the passengers, the driver and their families — everyone in our company feels that way,” the spokesman told Newsday. “The police are looking into it and our insurance has been notified.”
According to the US Department of Transportation, the company has had no crashes in the past 24 months and has the top safety rating, “satisfactory.”
Five people suffered moderate injuries and three dozen, from various Long Island schools, sustained minor injuries in the crash.
Marilyn Maggio said her daughter Amelia, who attends the Huntington school district, suffered head and hand lacerations from broken glass and bruises.
“Overall, she’s just shaken up,” she told Newsday. “They are on and off buses all throughout Europe, and 20 minutes from home they almost lose their lives.”