Horrifying crash of bus into bridge kills 4, dreams
Kevin Coffey, a Temple University sophomore, had never taken the double-decker Megabus from Philadelphia to Toronto. Lee Veeraraghavan, a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania, had taken it at least 20 times.
Kevin Coffey, a Temple University sophomore, had never taken the double-decker Megabus from Philadelphia to Toronto.
Lee Veeraraghavan, a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania, had taken it at least 20 times.
On Friday, the strangers boarded the Toronto-bound bus together in Philadelphia about 10 p.m. along with 26 other passengers.
For Coffey, it was the last trip he ever took. For Veeraraghavan, it was the one she will never be able to forget.
About 2:30 a.m., the 13-foot-high bus they were riding in crashed into a railroad bridge 10 feet, 9 inches highin Salina, N.Y., just outside of Syracuse, shredding the top deck of the bus and toppling it on its side.
Among the four killed in the crash were Coffey, 19, a native of Kansas, and Deanna Armstrong, 18, from Voorhees, N.J., said Onondaga County Sheriff's Deputy Herb Wiggins.
"Her [Armstrong's] parents were en route from New Jersey to Syracuse Saturday night to identify her but they got too distraught and had to turn back," he said.
Armstrong was identified last night through dental records, Wiggins said.
Five others were seriously injured and remained hospitalized last night, including Carl Kerr, 51, and Mabel Tabb, 79, both of Philadelphia; a King of Prussia woman, Lo Wah Chu, 55; and the bus driver, John Tomaszewski, 59, of Bordentown Township, N.J., police said.
From Coffey's parents' home in Manhattan, Kan., family friend Amy Boxer said that Coffey, who was only two weeks into his second year at Temple, had planned his one-man trip to Toronto this summer "just to see the city."
"He was so excited to explore," she said. "He loved to see new places and meet new people."
Coffey, who was an Eagle Scout and enjoyed rowing and running, was in the Honors Program at Temple and was majoring in international business.
Boxer said that Coffey, was "an exceptional, honest, kind, smart and genuine" young man who was loved by many and who loved Philadelphia.
"He had a bright future ahead of him there," she said.
Lee Veeraraghavan, 27, the second-year Penn student, said that talking has been helping her to cope with the horrors she saw.
Veeraraghavan, an ethnomusicology major from Toronto, travels home once a month, usually by the double-decker Megabus, to see her husband and parents.
She said that she always sits in the bottom of the bus, in the back row on the driver's side, where she was sleeping Saturday when the crash happened.
"I remember a bang, an impact and then I guess I slowly started to realize I was in pain and lying in a lot of broken glass," she said.
Veeraraghavan said that she found herself lying on her back, on top of asphalt and a broken window, a result of the bus tipping over on its side. She said a woman's legs were on top of her and that the woman was stuck, but conscious.
"As I started to process what happened, what really made me realize it was when I looked over my left shoulder and saw a severed leg an arm's length away," she said. "Then I realized how serious it was and that I was actually in a very good position."
Once she was free and escaped the wreckage, Veeraraghavan said that she never stopped to take in the sight of the mangled bus.
"When we crawled out, there was part of a corpse hanging from a door we had to go through," she said. "I didn't look at it and once we were passed, I didn't look back."
Veeraraghavan, who suffered a cut to her eyelid, said that she was taken to a hospital to be treated and was picked up later in the day by her husband.
She was scheduled to be on a bus back to Philadelphia last night but decided against it.
"The bus company has offered me a train ticket," Veeraraghavan said. "So I will probably take that in the middle of the week."
Don Carmichael, a senior vice president at Coach USA, which operates Megabus, said that the driver, John Tomaszewski, had driven the route regularly. Carmichael called the crash an "unfortunate, horrific accident."
Police said that Tomaszewski is not believed to have been intoxicated and may have made a wrong turn onto the unfamiliar roadway. Wiggins did say, though, that the bridge has many warning signs about its height, some of which are flashing.
Onondaga Sherriff Kevin Walsh told Syracuse television station YNN that, in police interviews, Tomaszewski said that he was following his GPS and did not see the signs or the bridge.
Wiggins said that the Sheriff's Department will issue a traffic infraction but that criminal charges, if warranted, would be handed down by the Onondaga County District Attorney's Office.
Tomaszewski's neighbors in Bordentown Township, Burlington County, said that his Groveville Road home had been in foreclosure for quite some time and that he appeared to have moved with his wife and children last week.
Neighbors said that he once owned a home-improvement company and weren't aware that he was driving a bus.
"He was a quiet guy," said Karen Oswald, a neighbor. "He didn't really socialize too much."
The other two passengers killed in the crash have been identified as Ashwani Mehta, 34, of India, and Benjamin Okorie, 35, of Malaysia.
Staff writer Jason Nark and the Associated Press contributed to this report.