Star Tag tour bus that crashed Wednesday (image courtesy The Journal News)
New Rochelle, NY (written by Ernie Garcia & Elizabeth Ganga/The Journal News) -- State police are planning to interview some of the passengers on a tour bus that crashed Wednesday on Interstate 95, injuring all 24 people on board, to determine if the driver may have dozed off before the accident.
The tour bus company, Star Tag of Brooklyn, whose vehicle crashed on its way back from Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut, had been cited at least four times in the past year for driver fatigue.
Police said the driver, who was found outside the bus after the 6:20 a.m. crash, was critically injured but that troopers were still trying to determine how he wound up outside the vehicle. It was unclear if he was ejected. Police did not identify him or the 23 passengers, most of Asian descent, who were on board the bus.
"It appears that the bus bounced off a guardrail," Sgt. Kevin Flynn said Wednesday night, reading from a preliminary report. "Speed may have been a factor. No charges have been filed, but we are going to interview the passengers to see if (the driver) may have fallen asleep."
Emergency responders found the driver on the side of the road about 150 yards behind the bus, banged up but conscious and talking, New Rochelle Fire Chief Louis DiMeglio said. He was admitted to Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx in critical condition, police said.
"He was out of the bus," DiMeglio said. "He somehow exited the bus mid-accident."
The bus initially hit the highway median and then skidded to the right and slid along the guardrail for a couple hundred feet, DiMeglio said. The bus, which said Foxwoods on the side and had Asian writing, was heavily damaged in front, but the inside was intact despite a few broken side windows.
The bus was still creeping forward when a trooper arrived and he pulled his cruiser in front of it to bring it to a stop, DiMeglio said.
The bus was returning to Queens.
Flynn said none of the 23 passengers had life-threatening injuries.
The most recent safety violations for Star Tag were on Feb. 4, when it was cited during a roadside inspection for a log violation related to fatigued driving, inadequate bus emergency exit markings and inoperable required lamps. The company was also cited for fatigued driving or speeding on Nov. 10, Aug. 22 and March 18, 2011.
A March 12, 2011, bus accident on I-95 that killed 15 people and injured 18 was probably caused by a combination of fatigue and the early morning hour, the National Transportation Safety Board concluded in a hearing last month. The fatal crash site was not far from Wednesday's accident.
"Together, fatigue and speed are an especially lethal combination," NTSB Chairwoman Deborah Hersman said at the hearing. She described the accident as a "deadly crash (that) did not have to happen."
A man who answered the phone at Star Tag of Brooklyn on Wednesday said he did not know anything about the crash. He said all the company's representatives were off for the holiday.
According to Foxwoods' website, Star Tag runs buses from New York City's Chinatown, Elmhurst and Flushing. The casino's website indicates that three Star Tag buses were scheduled to leave Foxwoods for Manhattan and Queens at 4:15 and 4:45 a.m.
Star Tag has a "satisfactory" rating on the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's website, which also noted that the company has not had any crashes in the past two years.