A bus operated by JaimonVoyage.com lies on its side in the median of Interstate I-87 after it overturned at around 8 a.m. this morning near Exit 29. One person is dead and 55 injured in the crash.
NORTH HUDSON — A teenager is dead and 55 passengers were taken to area hospitals with injuries after a tour bus veered off the shoulder on Interstate 87 and onto the median on Friday morning.
New York State Police Major Richard Smith III confirmed the fatality at a press conference shortly after 1 p.m.
The deceased has been identified by state police as 14-year-old Chelssy Mercier of Quebec.
Smith said Mercier was partially ejected from the vehicle, which then came to rest on her. After responders used jacks to lift the bus, resuscitation efforts by passerby and state police were unsuccessful.
The 2008 Prevost passenger coach carrying Canadian tourists was traveling south on I-87 from Charney, Quebec to New York City when it veered off the shoulder of the highway.
Essex County's Department of Emergency Services received multiple reports starting at 7:46 a.m. of an accident near mile marker 95 and Exit 29.
Essex County Emergency Services Director Don Jaquish said at least six calls came in at quick succession.
“It was one right after another,” he said.
Ten emergency service squads and three fire departments responded.
“There were multiple individuals outside of the bus,” said Smith.
All passengers, reportedly between the ages of 6 and 54, were removed from the windshield and top hatch of the bus.
Smith said he believed all occupants were Canadian nationals containing multiple generations of family members. The exact seatbelt situation remained unclear.
‘MASS CASUALITY INCIDENT’
On the scene, the bus lay on its side. Ahead, the triple lines of iron guide wire were splintered and plastic strewn across the southbound lane.
All 55 passengers, as well as the driver, were taken to three area hospitals.
Essex County Emergency Services Coordinator Patty Bashaw referred to it as a mass casualty incident.
All were transported, some with a bus from Westport Central School, for safety reasons.
“Once the adrenaline wears off, there may be cuts and bruises,” she said. “Crushing-type injuries.”
None are believed to be life-threatening, she said.
Between 30-35 were transported to Elizabethtown Community Hospital (ECH), two to Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital, eight to Moses-Ludington in Ticonderoga, nine to Glens Falls and one has been transported to Burlington via North Country Life Flight, according to Bashaw.
Three to five of those individuals were transported with serious injuries, said Smith.
He, as well as other officials, repeatedly refused to comment on the severity of the injuries.
The injured included 41 code green patients, what Bashaw called “the walking wounded.” Ten were code yellow, or moderately injured, with three code red that required immediate transport.
Bashaw said her agency was prepared to respond. “We’ve tweaked our response plan and that certainly helped today,” she said. “We worked really well together.”
Jacquish called the response flawless. “It was a real team effort.”
ECH was treating between 30-35 patients, mostly teenagers, said spokesperson Jane Hooper, who couldn’t comment on the nature of the injuries.
She said additional medical personnel were mobilized and a team was in place by the time casualties started arriving shortly past 10 a.m. Seven citizen translators were also called to assist survivors as they began streaming in.
“The staff we have is wonderful,” she said. “We’re going to try to keep people as comfortable as possible.”
No cause has been given in the crash. Eyewitnesses reported no obstacles on Interstate 87 prior to the accident.
The bus did not ignite, nor were any skid marks visible at the scene.
“It rode the contour of the median and tipped onto its side,” Smith said.
The driver, a 61-year-old Canadian male who has not been identified, will be given an evaluation to determine his fitness to operate the bus, said Smith.
Smith said authorities were investigating the man’s background.
He has been subject to, and passed, three prior documented inspections in two states, examinations that are common in the industry, said Smith.
“There is currently no reason to believe he had a problem with his driving credentials,” he said.
Smith said the relationship is still unclear between the driver and the Autobus Fleur de Lys, the Quebec company that owns the bus.
“It’s unknown who he works for,” he said.
He said the remote nature of Interstate 87 means that drivers often drive longer distances without stopping.
“Sometimes fatigue can contribute,” he said.
It’s undetermined when the bus left Quebec, although some unconfirmed reports indicate 1 a.m on Friday morning.
‘PEOPLE WERE IN SHOCK’
Quebec resident Stephane Donnelly told the Valley News he was driving behind the bus, preparing to pass it on the right, when the bus veered off the road into the median.
“I saw it swerving to the left,” Donnelly said.
Donnelly’s wife, Chantele, who was traveling in another vehicle with other members of their party, placed the initial 911 call.
He and his son, Matthieu, 17, approached the bus and started pulling the injured out of the overturned bus.
Stephane estimated he was driving between 65 and 68 miles per hour while preparing to pass.
“That’s the speed limit,” he said.
“I opened the top and people started getting out,” said Matthieu. “Some people were hurt, some cuts. A lot of blood, not big injuries. People were in shock.”
Matthieu and Stephen assisted authorities in translation efforts, from French to English.
The family was on their way to Clearwater, Florida. They said they will continue with their travels.
Smith commended the family later at a press conference without releasing their names.
“Each family risked their own safety and did everything they could,” he said. “They need to be commended for the human value of their efforts.”
A collision reconstruction unit will study where and why the bus left the road and where it traveled. New York State Department of Transportation officials will also open an investigation, said Smith.
The bus will be transferred to the Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Unit in Ray Brook.
“We still have what’s commonly referred to as a ‘black box’ containing braking, speed and additional data,” said Smith.
Authorities will download that data to help piece together the causes, he said. “It will give us some indication what was going on.”
State, federal and agencies were on the scene alongside members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
“We will coordinate with what the passengers believed happened and put that together with the evidence,” said Smith.
An autopsy for Mercier has been scheduled for this weekend, said Smith.
Arrangements were being made for the survivors to be transported back to Canada. Authorities are in contact with the Canadian Consulate in New York City.
On Friday evening, a tour bus emblazoned with the name “Menard” waited in ECH's parking lot. Inside, investigators from the state police’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation interviewed survivors.
Outside, a scrum of reporters from Canadian news agencies remained.