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School bus 'mangled' after crash with dump truck in Mount Olive, New Jersey  1 Week ago

Source:   USA Today  

MOUNT OLIVE TOWNSHIP, N.J. — The crash of a dump truck and school bus taking middle school students on a field trip claimed at least two lives Thursday and sent 43 people to area hospitals.

One student and one teacher were killed, Bergen County Executive James Tedesco said during an emotional press conference in Paramus, N.J., where the trip originated. The bus, carrying fifth-graders from East Brook Middle School, was ripped from its chassis in the accident along Interstate 80 near the Waterloo Village exit.

The teacher who died was identified by a family member Thursday night as Jennifer Marie Williamson, a veteran educator of more than 20 years, according to state records. She was a fifth-grade teacher, according to the East Brook Middle School website.

Family members gathered Thursday night at her Paramus home, where a man who said he was her nephew confirmed her death.

The impact from the crash pushed the bus into guardrails and tore its body clear off its chassis, which remained at a right angle across the road, and twisted its front end into a yellow tangle of metal.

Immediately after the crash, the bus filled with students’ screams.

One student on the bus, Theo Ancevski, 11, said he heard classmates screaming as the bus toppled. Then he and others scrambled out an emergency exit on the top of the bus while others climbed out the windows.

Theo said he first heard a sound at the back of the bus — “something with one of the trucks behind us got hit as we toppled over.” Afterward, some students “were, like, hanging from their seat belts.”

In an interview outside of Morristown Medical Center, his father, Pavle Ancevski, said his son and other students he saw at the hospital were not badly hurt.

“We’re thankful to God,” he said. “I hope the other kids are OK. We have no information about them.”

This is the second year the school district has had a field trip to Waterloo Village, a restored 19th century canal town that is about a 45-mile trip west of Paramus.

The school bus was holding 38 students and seven adults when it crashed, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said. Some of the 43 were rushed to hospitals and still are undergoing surgery; others are in critical condition.

Murphy arrived at the scene just before 2 p.m. ET then headed to the school.

"Our hearts are broken by today’s tragedy," he tweeted.

The bus was among a group of three transporting East Brook Middle School students to Waterloo Village, according to a note sent to parents from school Principal Thomas J. LoBue. The other two buses were not involved in the crash. 

Police were first notified about the crash at about 10:20 a.m. The driver apparently missed Exit 25 along Route 80 west for Waterloo Village. The accident occurred a short distance beyond the exit, in Mount Olive at that time. The National Transportation Safety Board said it was not investigating the crash.

The Morris County Prosecutor’s Office and the New Jersey State Police will jointly investigate.

“We’re going to work together … to make sure we get this accident investigated as detailed as possible,” said Maj. Brian Polite of the state police. “This is a tough situation … When you hear that call about an accident involving children, your heart just drops into your stomach.”

Officials said the dump truck driver is alive, but in the hospital, and that the bus driver was also injured.

Those injured were transported to six hospitals, the governor said: 21 to Morristown Medical Center, 10 to Hackettstown Medical Center, three to St. Clare's hospital in Dover, four to St. Clare's in Denville, three to University Hospital Newark and two to St. Joseph's Regional Medical Center in Paterson.

“This is a devastation right now for our community,” said Holly Tedesco-Santos, the Paramus council president. 

Paramus schools will be open Friday. Bergen County mental health staff will be at the middle school during the day, and all Paramus schools will have crisis intervention teams and counselors available, said James Tedesco, the Bergen County executive.

At the scene, the front cab of the school bus appeared to be obliterated and separated from the rest of the bus. The undercarriage, chassis and tires also were separated from the body of the bus, which was on its side.

The bus leaned against a crushed metal guardrail with the front cab torn and twisted away. The steering wheel could be seen sticking above the wreckage.  

Clothing and other personal belongings were strewn on the grassy median around the wreckage. At about 12:30 p.m., state police brought in K-9s to search the woods and areas near the scene. 

A red dump truck believed to have been involved in the accident was stopped in the eastbound far left lane of I-80.  The words "In God We Trust" were on the back of the truck.

All school buses used in New Jersey must have lap-type seat belts or other child restraint systems, according to the state Department of Education. Teams from the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission also inspect school buses at least twice each year.

The standards for school bus drivers include alcohol and drug testing upon initial employment followed by random tests. Drivers must have a physical examination every two years, a criminal background check upon initial employment and at the time of renewal of their commercial license, and each year submit a history of motor vehicle violations.

Records link the truck’s license plate to a Belleville trucking company, whose vehicles have been involved in eight accidents in the past two years.

Officials provided no details Thursday about how the accident occurred, or who drove the bus or the truck.

Two buses made it to Waterloo Village, said Zainab Qureshi, 11, one of the fifth-grade students not on the wrecked bus. But about 30 minutes later, chaperones and teachers told students they were turning around and returning to school because of bad weather.

All students boarded the buses and were on the way back to their school when students began to realize the third bus was missing, she said. Students did not find out about the accident until they were back at school because they were instructed to leave their cellphones in their lockers at school.

Zainab's mother, Shabnum Qureshi, said she was scared that her daughter might have been injured because she had no way of reaching Zainab.

“This is something you hope never happens in your hometown,” said Angela Miaoalis, a parent picking her child up at the school.

Her son James Miaoalis, an eighth-grader, said he and classmates were in a state of confusion waiting to hear about friends.

“We’re just waiting to hear from everyone we know,” his mom said.

Tedesco spoke with a quavering voice as he told reporters that Paramus, his hometown, would pull through. 

“This community has been strong,” he said. “It will continue to be strong. It will come together and support the entire educational community.”

He later said the community was still in a state of disbelief about the tragedy’s scale.

“You have to step back and say, ‘Why?’ ” Tedesco said. “But the Lord has a plan for everybody … we’re going to get through it. But it’s not going to be easy. It’s not going to be easy.”

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