Cops: Driver using GPS device just before double-decker bus slammed into bridge, killing 4

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Cops: Driver using GPS when bus hit NY bridge

SALINA, N.Y. — A double-decker bus driver may have been distracted by his own GPS device when he drove the vehicle into a railroad bridge in central New York, killing four passengers, authorities said Wednesday.

John Tomaszewski, 59, was using a personal GPS receiver with an audio feature when the Megabus rammed the bridge early Saturday, Onondaga County Sheriff Kevin Walsh said.

Using any GPS device while driving is against company policy, said Don Carmichael, a senior vice president at Coach USA, which operates Megabus. Each bus is equipped with a GPS system that allows the company to track its location, but the device cannot be used by a driver to get directions, he said.

Tomaszewski told investigators he was listening to the GPS system rather than holding it when the 13-foot-1-inch-tall bus failed to clear the bridge’s low-hanging, 10-foot-9-inch span, Walsh said.

Authorities are obtaining a search warrant to see whether the GPS system was programmed when the bus left Philadelphia “or if he programmed it along the route somewhere or once he was looking for the bus station,” Walsh said.

The Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration sent an investigator to assist in examining the cause of the crash, spokesman Duane DeBruyne said.

The bus was carrying 29 people, including the driver, when it crashed around 2:30 a.m. on the Onondaga Lakeside Parkway in Salina, a Syracuse suburb. Tomaszewski hit the bridge after making a wrong turn off an interstate highway and was not taking an alternate route to make up time, Walsh said.

Following a number of crashes involving large vehicles hitting overpasses, New York Gov. David Paterson proposed legislation in October that would have required all large commercial trucks to use GPS devices that route them away from restricted roads. The governor’s office did not immediately return a call Wednesday for information on the status of the bill and whether buses were included.

The Megabus left Philadelphia at 10 p.m. Friday and was headed for Toronto with stops in Syracuse and Buffalo. Normally, the bus enters Syracuse on Interstate 81 and heads straight for a depot for a 30-minute rest stop, but the driver left his usual route and was on a road that might have been unfamiliar, Carmichael said.

Tomaszewski and the bus company said he was traveling within the 55-mph speed limit, said Walsh, who expects the driver to be charged this week with various traffic violations, including failure to obey traffic signs.

“There’s eight or 10 signs leading up the bridge — barring truck traffic and warning of the low bridge, including a couple with flashing yellow lights,” Walsh said, adding that the bridge has reflective 2-foot-high panels along its length on both sides for greater visibility.

Tomaszewski, of Yardville, N.J., suffered a head injury and has been released from the hospital along with three of the four injured passengers. Lo Wah Chu, 55, a Hong Kong native who lives in Pennsylvania, remained in serious condition Wednesday.

Chicago-based Megabus operates about 100 double-decker buses on scheduled routes to 33 cities in the Northeast and Midwest, has carried close to 7 million passengers since its launch in 2006 and has had no previous fatal highway accidents, Carmichael said. The buses carry up to 81 passengers and a driver, and feature low fares, limited stops, computer ports and free Wi-Fi for browsing the Web.

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