The injured driver of a double-decker Megabus that smashed into a low bridge in upstate New York in September, killing four passengers, was charged Monday with criminally negligent homicide.
John Tomaszewski, 60, of Yardville, N.J., made a wrong turn off an interstate highway late at night just outside downtown Syracuse, and the 13-foot-1-inch-tall bus failed to clear the railroad bridge's 10-foot-9-inch span.
The Philadelphia-to-Toronto bus was carrying 29 people, including the driver, when it crashed Sept. 11 on Onondaga Lake Parkway in Salina. The crash killed a New Jersey teenager, a Philadelphia college student from Kansas, a Malaysian preacher and an information technology specialist from India.
After months of review, a grand jury decided to indict him on four counts of criminally negligent homicide plus one count of failing to obey a traffic control device. At an arraignment in Onondaga County Court, attorney Scott Brenneck entered a not guilty plea for Tomaszewski.
According to police, Tomaszewski was using a personal GPS with an audio feature and may have been distracted. There are 12 signs along the road to warn vehicles of the low bridge, some with flashing yellow lights.
Coach USA, which operates Megabus, said that using any GPS device while driving is against company policy. Each bus, it said, is equipped with a GPS system that allows the company to track its location, but the device cannot be used by a driver to get directions.
Paramus, N.J.-based Coach USA has not confirmed that a GPS was being used or played a role in the crash. Tomaszewski told investigators he was listening to the GPS system rather than holding it.
Tomaszewski and the company said he was traveling within the 55-mph speed limit.
Chicago-based Megabus operates about 100 double-decker buses on scheduled routes to 33 cities in the Northeast and Midwest. It has carried close to 7 million passengers since its launch in 2006, with no previous fatal highway accidents.
Brenneck said Tomaszewski suffered numerous injuries in the crash, including a traumatic brain injury, and has been living with his sister. Brenneck also said Tomaszewski would need surgery and asked Judge Anthony Aloi to allow the defendant to be released without bail. There was no objection by the prosecution, and the judge agreed, warning Tomaszewski not to drive a vehicle for hire while the criminal case is pending in court.
Brenneck declined to comment as he left court with Tomaszewski, who stared straight ahead as he walked past TV cameras.
Senior Assistant District Attorney Chris Bednarski said outside the courtroom that he was mulling whether to seek jail time if Tomaszewski is found guilty. Bednarski said he had reached out to the victims' families `'to see what they hope to accomplish."
Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick had said at a December news conference that he was considering having a grand jury review whether rail company CSX had any responsibility for not addressing the low bridge over the highway despite numerous nonfatal crashes in the past. Bednarski said there were no plans now to pursue charges against the company.
Associated Press writer Ben Dobbin in Rochester, N.Y., contributed to this report.