NTSB investigating fatal Delaware bus crash

AP News
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Posted: Sep 22, 2014 5:56 PM
NTSB investigating fatal Delaware bus crash

NEW CASTLE, Del. (AP) — An independent federal agency is casting a wide net as it investigates the cause of a bus crash that killed two passengers and injured dozens more when it toppled over on a Delaware highway.

The National Transportation Safety Board announced Monday that it was opening an investigation into the Sunday wreck, which involved no other vehicles. State police said drugs and alcohol did not play a role.

Forty-nine passengers were on the bus as it drove onto a curved exit ramp and overturned in New Castle in northern Delaware, according to state police. The bus slid on its roof down a grass embankment and came to rest on its left side, police said.

Hua'y Chen, a 54-year-old woman from New York City, was found under the bus and pronounced dead at the scene, state police spokesman Sgt. Paul Shavack said. Idil Bahsi, a 30-year-old woman from Istanbul, Turkey, was taken to a hospital and died Sunday night.

Other passengers were taken to hospitals for injuries varying in severity. As of Monday afternoon, 20 patients were still receiving care at Christiana Hospital in Newark, with one in critical condition, according to hospital spokesman Hiran Ratnayake.

Shavack said investigators are still trying to determine the primary factor that contributed to the crash, which could include speed, driver distraction, driver fatigue and mechanical issues. According to federal regulations, bus drivers are authorized to be on duty for up to 70 hours in an eight-day period.

State police investigators have interviewed the bus driver, 56-year-old Jinli Zhao, who was not critically injured, authorities said, because he was wearing a seat belt at the time of the crash. The vehicle, a 1996 Setra Touring Coach Bus, does not have seatbelts on passenger seats, according to a representative for the manufacturer.

National Transportation Safety Board spokesman Peter Knudson said the agency's investigators are looking into contributing factors relating to both the driver and the vehicle.

Knudson said NTSB investigators will also interview Zhao about his medical history and activity in the 72 hours before the wreck.

Investigators also will look into the bus company, New York-based Am United Express Incorporated, and its policies, procedures, training and management systems.

The company has been involved in one other crash over the past two years in which no one was injured, according to online records with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Seventeen bus inspections and 31 inspections of drivers in the past two years resulted in one driver and one bus being taken out of service.

Ken Ng, a representative for the bus company, said Monday that he received three calls from Zhao on Sunday just after the crash, and that Zhao told him the bus had flipped over. Ng said Zhao told him he'd taken an alternative route from Washington to New York because of a traffic jam on Interstate 95.

Ng said the tour group, coordinated by E World Travel and Tour, was originally traveling with a different bus company, but the vehicle broke down near Corning, New York. Ng said he offered to tap Zhao, who had driven a group from New York to Corning earlier that day, to pick up the stranded passengers and continue the tour.

Ng said the bus likely had a data recording device aboard.

Knudson also said investigators will examine the physical environment of the crash site including weather, light and road conditions.

Shavack said he doesn't recall any other commercial vehicle crashes occurring on this particular exit ramp in recent memory.

Authorities said the passengers were taking a three-day sightseeing tour that included Niagra Falls and Washington that began Friday in New York. The crash happened as the bus was heading back to New York.

On Monday afternoon, personal items littered a debris field at the crash site that stretched for more than 50 yards. Scattered in the grass were the remnants of a fried chicken dinner, a blood-stained cellphone and a receipt from The Maryland House Service Plaza, where the bus stopped around 2:30 p.m. Sunday so passengers could stretch their legs and grab a snack. The crash happened about two hours later.

Broken glass and rubber window seals were embedded in the muddy ground, where the truck came to a rest after slamming onto its side. An emergency exit hatch and a bus company sign lay in the woods nearby.

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Associated Press writers Juliet Linderman in Baltimore and Jessica Gresko and Amanda Myers in Washington contributed to this story.