2 dead, dozens injured, after charter bus carrying high school band crashes on I-84
ORANGE COUNTY, N.Y. — Two people died and dozens were injured after a charter bus carrying members of a Long Island high school band crashed off a New York highway, according to officials, as the vehicle careened down an embankment off the side of the busy roadway.
The crash occurred just after 1 p.m. Thursday on I-84 near the Orange County town of Wawayanda, about 45 miles northwest of New York City. Gov. Kathy Hochul said at an evening press conference it was “likely that a faulty front tire contributed to the accident, although this is still under investigation.”
State police confirmed that two people, both adults, died in the crash. According to the governor and state investigators, 40 students and four adults were passengers on board when the bus tumbled down a 50-foot ravine. “Five or six” of the students were taken to area hospitals in critical condition.
Gina Pellettiere, 43, of Massapequa, and Beatrice Ferarri, 77, of Farmingdale, were identified as the victims killed in the crash. Pellettiere, a music teacher at the high school, was in charge of the student band.
Twenty-eight passengers from the crash had been admitted to four different area hospitals (Bon Secours, St. Anthony’s, Westchester Medical Center and Garnet Health) as of 5 p.m., spokespeople confirmed to News 4. The extent of their injuries weren’t immediately clear.
The bus was one of six carrying members of the Farmingdale High School band, according to officials from the Long Island school, which was heading to Greeley, Pennsylvania, for a band camp. Officials said that all after-school activities had been canceled Thursday.
New York State Police confirmed the highway was closed at exit 15A for an accident investigation. Westbound lanes of I-84 will be closed for several hours, police added.
A reunification center in Middletown has been established at Orange County Community College, in the Diana Physical Education Building. The school district says students from bus 1 will be transported to the college, while the final destination for students on buses 2-6 will be Farmingdale High School.
Aerial footage showed ripped-up grass on the embankment and the bus lying on its left side with its roof warped. A ladder allowed rescuers to reach the windows.
“Imagine the fear, the screams and the aftermath when these high school students, many of them freshmen, were surrounded by this chaos,” Hochul said at the news conference.
A September trip to band camp is an annual tradition at the suburban high school, which has around 1,700 students. Members of the marching band, color guard and the school’s kick line team attend, as well as adult chaperones. During some years, more than 300 students have gone on the trip to rehearse and have fun in rural Pennsylvania.
Student Anthony Eugenio called his family to say he was a little banged up, but OK. He recalled the bus rolling over several times before it came to a rest.
“He said he is really sore. He’s got a big bump on his leg. He’s got blood on his pants from somebody else. The person next to him was covered in blood,” his father, Jonathan Eugenio, told The Associated Press in a phone interview from near the upstate crash site.
Anthony, who plays the trombone, had to borrow a friend’s phone because he could not find his, after the bus tumbled off the road.
“It was pretty nerve-wracking,” the worried father said. “When you get news like that and your son is two and half hours away — it’s pretty scary.”
What we know about the bus company
The federal Department of Transportation routinely publishes detailed records about charter bus companies, and according to those records, the company that owns the motor coach has a satisfactory rating — despite a few problems worth noting in the last two years.
According to the DOT number listed on the side of the bus, the vehicle that flipped down that embankment is owned by Regency Transportation out of Nesconset on Long Island. The company has eight vehicles and employs about 14 drivers.
The driver behind the wheel, according to the state’s DOT, was properly licensed.
It’s not known what caused the bus to run off of I-84, and there wasn’t anything known about the vehicle’s specific maintenance record. However, from the company’s overall record of the past 24 months, Regency Transportation vehicles and drivers have been subjected to inspections about 40 times over that period.
The company received a satisfactory rating from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. However, Regency did have one crash with an injury in 2022, according to federal records. Additionally, federal inspectors accused one driver of falsely reporting hours behind the wheel, five months ago in April.
As for the charter buses themselves, federal inspectors have conducted 41 vehicle inspections. They reported finding 17 maintenance problems, two of which dealt with emergency exits. Three others involved brakes or anti-lock brakes.
State troopers and federal investigators likely will dig into details of the vehicle’s past in the coming days.
This is a developing story; please check back for updates.