Tour Bus Company in Fatal N.J. Turnpike Crash Has Among the Worst U.S. Driver Safety Records

Published: Wednesday, March 16, 2011, 7:00 AM Updated: Wednesday, March 16, 2011, 7:16 AM By Star-Ledger Staff EAST BRUNSWICK — Super Luxury Tours, the company whose bus crashed on the New Jersey Turnpike on Monday night, killing two people and injuring 40, has compiled one of the worst driver safety records in the country, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Transportation. Over the past two years, Super Luxury Tours’ 16 drivers were involved in four accidents, two of them with injuries, according to the DOT. Drivers were cited six times for speeding and three times for failure to obey traffic signals. On four occasions, drivers were unable to understand or answer basic commands in English. (It is not clear from the records whether any driver was cited more than once for poor driving.) In fact, as of last month, the driver safety record of the Wilkes-Barre, Pa., company was worse than 99.6 percent of all other bus companies in the country, the DOT said. Yet buses from Super Luxury Tours continue to roam the highways, clocking more than 2.2 million miles on U.S. roads last year, mostly shuttling passengers between East Coast cities at budget prices. Monday night’s crash occurred just south of Exit 9 in Middlesex County as the Super Luxury Tours bus was traveling from New York’s Chinatown neighborhood to Philadelphia. It was the second deadly bus wreck in three days. On Saturday, a bus returning to Chinatown from the Mohegan Sun casino in Connecticut crashed in the Bronx, killing 15. Cheap bus services, often called “Chinatown buses” for their point of origin in major East Coast cities from Washington, D.C., to Boston, have proliferated in recent years despite concerns. “It appears safety regulations haven’t kept pace,” said U.S. Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-N.Y.). “There needs to be a thorough, extensive review of all rules governing these bus operators.” State Police described a nightmare ride as the Super Luxury Tours bus careened out of control while traveling southbound on the Turnpike’s outer roadway at about 9 p.m. Monday. The bus veered off the left lane and onto a grassy median, then struck a concrete overpass support near the Route 18 interchange. The impact caused the back of the bus to leap off the ground and hit the bottom of the overpass, State Police said. The battered bus then lurched to the right, traveling across all three lanes before hitting a dirt embankment, front-first. When it finally came to a halt, the back of the bus still protruded into the rightmost lane, State Police said. The bus driver, Wei Wang, 50, of Forest Hills, N.Y., was hurled 15 feet through the windshield after the second collision and was pronounced dead at the scene, State Police said. A passenger, Troy Nguyen, 20, of Royersford, Pa., was found dangling from a window near the back of the bus. He later died of head injuries. All other passengers on the nearly full bus were injured, two critically, State Police said. The cause of the crash remained under investigation Tuesday, said Sgt. Stephen Jones, a State Police spokesman. He said the bus’ front-left tire blew out, but he was unable to say if that was a factor in the accident. “We are taking that evidence and adding it to the whole pile of evidence,” Jones said. “It has yet to be determined whether the tire blew out before or after the crash.” The Department of Transportation report, which did not assess blame or responsibility in any of the incidents involving Super Luxury Tours’ drivers, provided some details about the company’s four accidents: Three occurred last year in Pennsylvania. The fourth, in which no injuries were reported, occurred on the New Jersey Turnpike in Woodbridge on a rainy Dec. 26, 2009. Reached Tuesday afternoon, a bus company representative said he was busy and asked a reporter to call back in an hour. An hour later, the representative did not answer the phone nor return a message. Despite the accidents, however, “Chinatown buses” remain popular, with cheap fares and regular service between between Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. The price is what attracted Ashley Wilson, 21, of Queens, N.Y., a passenger on the Super Luxury bus involved in Monday night’s crash. “It’s only $20,” she said. “It was cheap.” A student at Temple University in Philadelphia, Wilson said she takes the bus twice a week to her internship in New York City. Another college student, Steven Mullahy, 20, was returning from a spring break trip to New York City along with his friend, Nguyen. Mullahy fell asleep as the bus traveled down the highway, then was jolted awake. “I woke up to a loud bang. The bus was swerving. People were screaming, and then I blacked out,” he said. Wilson said passengers panicked as the bus rocked back and forth violently. “I hit my head and fell to the floor. Everything was falling down,” she said. “People were going crazy.” When Mullahy woke up, he was lying on the ground outside the bus. He said people dashed around him yelling, and rescue workers were assigning victims colors based on the severity of their injuries: green, yellow, red. He looked to the back of the bus where he and Nguyen had been sitting. “I turned around and watch my friend get pulled out on a stretcher,” he said. Doctors and police officials described frantic efforts to treat victims of the crash. “It’s kind of ‘scoop and run,’” said Robert Eisenstein, vice chairman of emergency medicine at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick. Nguyen was pronounced dead soon after arriving at Robert Wood Johnson. He was one of nine people brought there. Five have since been released. State Police said Louis Pierre, 50, of Philadelphia and David Choi, 70, of Lansdale, Pa., were both in critical condition, although doctors said their status may be upgraded by today. The bus was towed to a garage in North Brunswick, where a team of investigators are inspecting the wreckage. Jones said more troopers are examining the driver’s history and the company’s record. The medical examiner’s office will perform an autopsy to determine whether the driver suffered any medical issues before the crash. By Mike Frassinelli and Tom Haydon/The Star-Ledger Staff writer Chris Megerian contributed to this report.

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *