Officials: 13 dead in NYC casino bus accident

Saturday, March 12, 2011; 1:06 PM

NEW YORK - Thirteen people died Saturday when a bus returning to New York City from a casino overturned on a highway and was sliced in half by the support pole for a large sign.

The driver, who survived, told police he lost control while trying to evade a swerving tractor trailer. Police began a hunt for the truck, which did not stop after the crash, New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said. It was unclear whether the two vehicles made contact, he said.

The early morning wreck left a scene of carnage and closed the southbound side of Interstate-95 for hours while emergency workers attended to critically injured survivors and removed bodies.

The bus, operated by the charter company World Wide Tours, was headed to Manhattan's Chinatown neighborhood carrying a full load of passengers returning from the Mohegan Sun casino in Uncasville, Conn.

According to the driver, the accident was triggered by a close encounter with a tractor trailer as the two vehicles were entering the city at 5:35 a.m. The bus was in one lane. The truck was in the lane to its left.

"The truck either starts to swerve or perhaps even hits the bus," Kelly said. He said both vehicles were moving at "a significant rate of speed."

As the bus took evasive action, it hit a guard rail, scraped along it for 300 feet, toppled and crashed into the support post for a highway sign indicating the exit for the Hutchinson Parkway.

The pole entered through the front window, then sheared the bus from front to back along the window line, cutting like a knife through the seating area and peeling the roof off all the way to the back tires.

Police and fire officials say the bus was carrying at least 31 passengers. A majority were hurled to the front of the bus by the sudden impact with the pole, fire chief Edward Kilduff said.

In addition to the fatalities, eight passengers were critically hurt, Kelly said. A total of 19 were treated at area hospitals. Several were in surgery later Saturday.

The wreck also closed the northbound side of the highway, but those lanes were moving again by mid-morning.

Limo driver Homer Martinez, 56, of Danbury, Conn. happened on the scene just moments after the wreck and saw other drivers sprinting from their cars to assist the injured. He said they were horrified by what they found.

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