An investigation into a fiery crash between a tractor-trailer and a tour bus that killed the truck driver and injured at least 30 passengers on the bus will focus on just where the bus was when it was hit and how fast it was going, police say.
The crash happened early Friday morning between Syracuse and Rochester when a Farr's Coach Lines bus being driven from Ontario to New York City with employees of a Canadian insurance company and their families merged back onto the 641-mile New York State Thruway after a mechanical problem.
It was hit from behind by a Flint, Mich.-based Matrix Expedited Services truck driven by Timothy Hume. The bus burst into flames, a blaze that consumed both vehicles. Hume, of Dryden, Mich., died in the crash; of the 30 injured, seven were hospitalized and two were seriously hurt.
State police said it was unclear how soon the bus was hit after it pulled into the driving lane. They said the bus had its emergency flashers on.
"It probably wasn't up to speed," Trooper Mark O'Donnell said. "That's what we're looking at right now. We're not sure if the bus was totally in the right lane or in the shoulder."
When the accident happened, Sgt. Jacob Perkins, a quick-thinking soldier from nearby Fort Drum who had started his leave only 90 minutes earlier, pulled off and ran into the burning bus several times to help rescue passengers.
State police Maj. Mark Koss said the passengers were all from Ontario and were 15 to 72 years old.
"It says a lot about Sergeant Perkins and our people in the military that he's going to take action, and we're very fortunate he did," Koss said.
Police said they ticketed the bus driver because his license had been suspended in New York state. The driver, Rene Bisson, of Welland, Ontario, has a valid license in Canada, but his New York license was suspended over two earlier speeding tickets, one in 2003 and one in 2006. Police said Bisson, 52, neglected to file paperwork to get his license reinstated after paying the speeding fines.
The bus was one of two chartered by London Life, an insurance company in London, Ontario. The other bus was not involved in the crash.
Koss said the bus, manufactured in 2008, was inspected within the last four to six weeks in Canada.
Video taken after the crash shows the charred, skeletal remains of the bus. Bare wheel hubs gleamed in the early light, the rubber tires burned off. The demolished truck, behind the bus, was barely recognizable.
A message left Friday for Farr's Coach Lines Ltd., a family owned carrier based in Dunnville, Ontario, was not returned.
Dan Ronan, a spokesman for the American Bus Association said the company had a "satisfactory" rating, the top of three grades, in its latest federal safety inspection in 2007.
Of the truck driver who was killed, Matrix spokesman Matt Hare said: "Tim was an upstanding professional driver with a great safety record. Our concerns and prayers go out to his family and all the passengers on the tour bus."
The Michigan Department of State said Hume, 59, had a clean driving record there.
The crash followed one last Sunday that killed 2 people and injured 35 others about 45 miles west of Friday's crash scene. In that accident, police said it appears a tire blowout caused a tour bus to veer off the road and flip over.
Before Friday's crash, 32 people were killed and 323 injured in 17 tour bus accidents this year, according to Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. That's more than in all of last year, when there 30 killed and 272 injured in 28 crashes.
Tour bus industry safety has drawn heightened attention since the March 12 crash of a bus returning to New York City's Chinatown after an overnight excursion to a Connecticut casino. Fifteen people were killed when the bus flipped onto its side and struck a pole, peeling off its roof.
Associated Press writer Tim Martin in Lansing, Mich., and Mary Esch in Albany, N.Y., contributed to this report.