A coach bus transporting dozens of Huntington area students home from a spring break trip smashed into an Southern State Parkway overpass late Sunday night, seriously injuring two 17-year-old girls.
New York State Police said at 9:08 p.m. April 8 officers responded to a one-vehicle crash involving a 2000 Prevost coach bus traveling eastbound on the Southern State Parkway that had crashed into the exit 18 Eagle Avenue overpass in the Town of Hempstead. There were 43 students and chaperones onboard returning from a trip to eastern Europe.
“We were informed shortly [after the crash] that several individuals who were injured in the accident were members of the Huntington High School community,” read a statement from Huntington Superintendent James Polansky posted on the district’s website. “While injuries apparently ranged in severity, preliminary reports indicate that all have been treated and released, or remain under treatment. Our thoughts and prayers remain with all families involved.”
State police identified the driver of the coach bus as Troy Gaston, 43, of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, who was working for Journey Bus Line. Police said Gaston had used a non-commercial GPS device to determine the best route from John F. Kennedy International Airport to Walt Whitman Mall in Huntington was via the Belt and Southern State parkways.
Gaston has a valid Pennsylvania commercial vehicle driver’s license. He was cooperative at the scene, according to police, where he was evaluated by a state police drug recognition expert for any sign of alcohol or drug use. The driver voluntarily offered a blood sample which came back with no trace of alcohol use and a drug evaluation is still pending, police said.
“This was an avoidable accident,” said U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) during a press conference.
Schumer said in 2012 he held a press conference at the same overpass where the accident occurred calling for improved safety standards including the use of commercial GPS systems to warn truck and bus drivers about the clearance heights of bridges.
In 2013, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, and agency with a primary mission to prevent commercial motor vehicle-related fatalities and injuries, sent notification to all truckers and transportation companies about these commercial GPS systems.
“This driver should have never been using the Southern State,” Schumer said. “And the GPS equipment was available to tell him.”
While installation of these commercial GPS systems was recommended by the federal agency, it is not mandated by law, according to Schumer. The senator said he would look into legislation to requiree the systems be used and drivers be properly trained to prevent future accidents.
The National Transportation Safety Board was also notified of the accident, according to police, but it did not meet their response criteria. It will be monitoring the ongoing investigation.
The Southern State Parkway was closed until 7 a.m. April 9 to allow state police to attempt to reconstruct the accident and determine its cause. Police said they still need to verify the route the bus traveled using forensic evidence and conducting passenger interviews.
Anyone who may have witnessed the crash is asked to contact the state police at 631-756-3300.