MOUNT OLIVE, N.J. — A school bus taking children on a field trip to a New Jersey historic site collided with a dump truck Thursday, ripping the bus apart, knocking it on its side and killing multiple people, officials said.
The front end of the school bus appeared to be ripped off as it sat on the median of Interstate 80 in Mount Olive. It was also sheared off its undercarriage and a piece of the front end of the bus with the steering wheel visible was lying on top of the guardrail separating the highway from the median.
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The Morris County prosecutor’s office said that there were multiple fatalities in the crash, but it declined to say how many or reveal the victims’ identities before their families are notified.
A red dump truck with a mangled front end was parked along the highway nearby, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) 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.
Police did not immediately comment on the cause of the crash.
State police said that an unknown number of children were on the bus, but they didn’t know how serious the injuries are. Hackettstown Police Sgt. Darren Tynan told The Record that multiple people were taken to a hospital.
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At least two canine units were searching the woods along the roadside Thursday afternoon, but it wasn’t clear why.
“Our hearts are broken by today’s tragedy,” Democratic New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said in a tweet.
Paramus Public Schools said that the bus was taking students from East Brook Middle School to Waterloo Village, which is about five miles from the crash scene. Students on two other buses on the field trip returned to the school about 50 miles (80 kilometers) from the crash site and were reunited with their parents, said Paramus police Commissioner Holly Tedesco.
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 Victor Nguyen 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.
Seventh-grader Alejandro Garcia told The Record that students were told to return to homeroom on Thursday morning. As his classmates started searching online to see what had happened, they realized there had been an accident.
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“People who I’m close friends with, who have brothers and sisters on that bus, started crying, and everybody just started sympathizing,” Garcia said. “It was just a time of need for everyone.”
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.
“From what I saw, the red truck was destroyed, but the bus appeared worse,” Manuel Absalon, a tourist from Mexico driving by the crash site, told WNBC-TV. “It looked like it was broken in half.”
Victims of the crash were taken to Morristown Medical Center, St. Joseph’s Health, St. Clare’s Dover Hospital and St. Clare’s Denville Hospital. Information on their exact condition wasn’t released.
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.
Sisak reported from Philadelphia. Associated Press writers Shawn Marsh, in Trenton, Mike Catalini in Paramus, David Porter in Morristown, and Jeff McMillan, Alexandra Villarreal, and Claudia Lauer in Philadelphia, contributed to this story.
© 2018 The Canadian Press