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 of the students were taken to area hospitals in critical condition.
Gina Pellettiere, 43, of Massapequa, and Beatrice Ferrari, 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, and Ferrari a retired teacher.
The majority of the students aboard the bus were taken to area hospitals, six in total, according to officials. Many of the 40 students on the bus were freshmen, Hochul said. “They endured. They were strong,” she said.
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. The bus crashed about 30 miles away from the Pine Forest Camp, where the students were headed.
New York State Police confirmed the highway was closed at exit 15A for an accident investigation and westbound lanes were closed for the investigation.
A reunification center in Middletown had been established at Orange County Community College, in the Diana Physical Education Building. The school district said students from bus 1 were transported to the college, while students on the other five buses eventually returned to Long Island hours after the crash.
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.
Farmingdale student Anthony Eugenio, 15, was asleep on the bus when he felt a thud and awoke to what he thought was a dream or nightmare. The bus felt as if it was tipping. Then he felt himself tumbling — how many times he can’t recall — as he tried to pull his sweatshirt hood from over his eyes.
“Then everyone was yelling,” he said. “The kid next to me was covered in blood. I saw blood everywhere.”
He crawled out of the overturned bus through a window, dazed but only scraped and bruised. Once outside, he found his backpack, which had been thrown from the wreck, and his missing shoe.
Bruce Blakeman, the county executive in Nassau County, where Farmingdale High School is located, asked that people please “pray for the injured.”
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.