Paramus teacher killed with student in horrific Rt. 80 school bus crash
MOUNT OLIVE — The two people killed in a Route 80 collision between a school bus and a dump truck that tore the bus apart were a Paramus student and teacher, Gov. Phil Murphy said.
The dump truck driver survived the crash, Bergen County Executive Jim Tedesco said at a news conference Thursday afternoon. Officials have not disclosed his condition.
The bus full of fifth-graders from East Brook Middle School was one of three heading to Waterloo Village in nearby Byram Township, authorities have said. The crash happened at 10:21 a.m. in the westbound lanes near Route 80's Exit 25, and shut the highway for several hours. One eastbound lane was opened by mid-afternoon.
Paramus has canceled all school field trips for the remainder of the year, school officials said. School will be open Friday.
There were 38 students and seven adults taken to area hospitals — 21 were taken to Morristown Medical Center (including the dump truck driver), 10 to Hackettstown Medical Center, six to St. Clare's Hospital in Dover, four to St. Clare's in Denville, three to UMDNJ in Newark and three to St. Joseph's Regional Medical Center in Paterson, Murphy said at the conference. Some were in critical condition and undergoing surgery as of mid-Thursday afternoon, he said.
Authorities have not released any information on the identities of those killed.
"There's a lot we don't know," Murphy said.
The crash left the bus lying on its side on the guardrail of Interstate 80 in Mount Olive, its undercarriage and front end sheared off and its steering wheel was exposed. Some of the victims crawled out of the emergency exit in the back of the bus and an escape hatch on the roof.
Paramus schools Superintendent Michele Robinson said the bus was equipped with seat belts, as is required under New Jersey law.
"I heard a scraping sound and we toppled over the highway," said student Theo Ancevski, who was sitting in the fourth row of the bus and was treated at a hospital for cuts and scrapes. "A lot of people were screaming and hanging from their seat belts."
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The front end of the red dump truck was mangled in the wreck, which took place about 50 miles west of New York. The truck was registered to Mendez Trucking, of Belleville, and had "In God We Trust" emblazoned on the back of it.
"It's a horrific scene," Mount Olive Mayor Rob Greenbaum told The Record.
Students on the two other buses on the field trip returned to their school about 50 miles from the crash site and were reunited with their parents.
The exact number of children and adults on the bus wasn't known. Police did not immediately comment on the cause of the crash.
At least two canine units were searching the woods along the roadside Thursday afternoon, but it wasn't clear why.
Zainab Qureshi, 11, told The Record she was on one of the two buses not involved in the crash. She said those two buses made it to Waterloo Village, but they were told by teachers and chaperones about a half hour later that they had to return to school because of bad weather.
She said students didn't find out about the accident until they arrived back at school.
Thuy Nguyen, a nurse from Paramus, was leaving the school with her eighth-grade son who was back at the school taking a standardized test and not in the bus. She said she rushed to the school after hearing the news.
"My heart just dropped. You hear the name of the school..." she said before trailing off.
Mendez Trucking has about 40 drivers and trucks, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. A message left with the company wasn't immediately returned. Its trucks have been in seven crashes in the last two years, none of them fatal, according to FMCSA.
Mendez was fined $22,850 in 2016 for violating regulations on inspections, repairs and maintenance and post-crash drug and alcohol testing, according to the FMCSA.
Mendez trucks have racked up more than 130 violations in the last two years, according to FMCSA, including 27 for excessive weight, 17 for leaking, spilling or falling cargo and four speeding violations — three of them this year.
Mendez has a higher than average vehicle out-of-service rate, which means inspections found violations which had to be corrected before the vehicle could be returned to service. Mendez's rate was 37.9 percent, according to FMCSA. The national average is 20.7.
Waterloo Village is a historic site depicting a Lenape Indian community and once-thriving port along the Morris Canal in northwestern New Jersey. It features several historic homes, a blacksmith shop, general store and more. It's a popular spot for school trips.
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