A tour bus crashed early this morning on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, about 35 miles southeast of Pittsburgh, killing 5 people and sending 60 others to area hospitals. The company running the New York-Ohio discount service operates from a curbside location at 59 Canal St. (Allen Street) here on the Lower East Side, among other locations.
News helicopters showed images of the bus tipped over on the side of the road, along with two tractor-trailers, a FedEx truck and a passenger vehicle. Signage on the side of the bus reads, “Ohio Coach.” A reporter for The New York Times called the Canal Street location and was referred to another company, Z & D Tour, Inc. The owner, Chen Dan Yu, told The Times that Ohio Coach sold tickets for Z & D Tour. He said 56 passengers boarded the bus.
Z & D Tour is one of two operators authorized to use the intercity bus stop at 59 Canal St., although the City of New York’s permit database only lists one company at the address, Virginia Seagull Travel. According to federal records, Z & D Tour has not reported any crashes in the past two years.
The roadway was wet at the time of the crash, but officials said it’s too early to know exactly what caused the accident. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is sending a team to the crash site. As of early this afternoon, the names of those killed had not been released. All of those injured are expected to survive, although two were listed in critical condition.
Over the years, several Chinatown/Lower East Side-based bus carriers have been involved in fatal crashes. Some of those tragedies led to the enactment of a bus permit system in New York City, but the law has failed to tame the lightly regulated intercity bus network that stretches up and down the East Coast and beyond.
UPDATE 1/7/20 New details from the NTSB. Contrary to early reports, the bus originated in Queens and made stops in Manhattan and Hackensack, New Jersey before continuing on to Pennsylvania. The tickets were sold out of the Canal Street office.
The driver, 58-year-old Shuang Qing Feng, was thrown from the bus due to the collision and was among those killed. Federal investigators say the driver lost control of the bus and it struck a concrete median barrier, The FedEx truck then hit the bus, as well an a UPS truck.
The Columbus Dispatch spoke with a passenger on board the bus, Lamar Brady, of Columbus, Ohio. Brady said it seemed to him the driver was traveling too fast as he moved to pass slower moving vehicles. Federal officials are still trying to determine if the bus was speeding. The driver had a satisfactory rating and recently passed his national compliance review. The bus was inspected last month without any issues, but it was not equipped with seatbelts. “When you see accident after accident where a death or serious injury could’ve been prevented by a seat belt … it’s frustrating and it’s devastating,” said Jennifer Homendy of the NTSB.
Dru Carey, an attorney for Z and D Tour told KDKA-TV in Pittsburgh, “We want to extend our deepest condolences to the families involved in this accident. Our greatest priority is safety. Z and D has always had a good record on safety and we continue on that precedent.”
In addition to the bus driver, 9-year-old Jaremy Vazquez of Brooklyn and 35-year-old Dr. Eileen Zelis Aria of the Bronx were killed. The other victims were Daniel Kepner, 53, and Dennis Kehler, 48, both UPS employees.