The day after a ferry boat collided with a pier, New Jersey commuters on their way to Wall Street had another hazardous crash to deal with. This time it was a Wall Street bound commuter bus that collided with a school bus, leaving the commuter bus driver pinned to his seat by a tree, and leaving the school bus on top of both an electrical generator and a sewage pumping station.
“I just heard the bang, then literally to the right of me I saw this yellow van, the school bus, flipping over,” said commuter bus passenger Matt Occhiogrosso. He was sitting in the back of the bus when the crash happened around 8:50 A.M. “It was like out of an action movie,” Occhiogrosso said. “It was surreal.”
The scene after the crash showed the overturned school bus facing in the opposite direction from which it had been traveling — it faced south next to the northbound lanes of Route 9. The commuter bus, meanwhile, was face to face with the bottom half of a tree. It had struck the tree after having struck a utility pole, following its encounter with the school bus.
“I got thrown from my seat,” said Christina Occhiogrosso. She’d been sitting on the bus next to her father, and sustained a fractured ankle to match his fractured eye socket. Both of them recalled a crashing sound at the moment of impact. “Loud banging,” she said. “Then it went black.”
The father and daughter were among 17 people treated at two different Raritan Bay Medical Center facilities near the crash scene. Two other people, including the driver of the commuter bus, Daniel Jean-Pierre, were seriously hurt, and taken to Robert Wood Johnson Medical Center in New Brunswick.
“The tree was basically in his seat,” said Cesar Salazar, a resident of the apartment complex in front of which the crash occurred. “You couldn’t really see [the driver] until they were finally able to take him out.” The tree penned Jean-Pierre in the cab. His legs were severely injured. He had to be flown by medical helicopter to the hospital, where he was in surgery for most of the day.
“It makes your heart skip a beat,” said Joe Orlando, spokesperson for the company that owns the commuter bus, Academy Bus Service. “But looking at it now,” said Orlando, “[after] being told by law enforcement on the scene that it looked a lot worse than it really was, that kind of makes things better, but it wasn’t a good start.”
Another eyewitness, Chet Singh, described hearing the collision before seeing it, but once the resident of the apartment complex where the crash took place saw what had happened, he sprang into action. “It sound[ed] like a storm in the air, a loud boom, a loud crashing sound,” Singh told PIX11 News.
“When I first saw the yellow [bus], that was my priority, to see if there were any kids on the bus. Fortunately there were no kids,” Singh said. The only people who had been on board the school bus were its driver and a school aide, both women.
“Pretty banged up,” is how eyewitness Cesar Salazar described the women’s condition. “A lot of blood.” However, investigators said, both women were expected to be released from the hospital before the day was over, despite the fact that the school bus in which they’d been riding had flipped over onto two large metal units, one housing a generator, and the other encasing sewage pumping equipment.
When the collision took place, both buses had been in the far right lane of Route 9 North, which has been designated a bus lane. Captain Robert Weiss of the Old Bridge Police Department said in an afternoon news conference that express commuter buses, like the Academy Bus involved in Thursday’s crash, are obligated to yield to other vehicles in the bus lane, if the vehicles are turning off of Route 9 onto a perpendicular street.
That is what had happened to the school bus, which had been attempting to turn right onto Arcade Lane to pick up students there, when the crash took place.
However, it was not clear if the school bus had cut off the commuter bus, or if the Academy commuter bus had run into a schoolbus that was slowing down to pick up students.
“It’s too early to make a determination of fault at this point,” Capt. Weiss told PIX11 News. He said that investigators were still interviewing witnesses and the drivers in order to figure out exactly what had happened and who was at fault.