By Connor Beach
A coach bus carrying 43 passengers, many of them students from Huntington High School, struck an overpass Sunday night on the Southern State Parkway in the Hempstead.
The roof of the bus was sheared off, causing several injuries, two of which were serious.
The bus was carrying 38 students and five adult chaperones.
The group was traveling from John F. Kennedy international airport to the Walt Whitman Shops in Huntington Station following a spring break trip to Eastern Europe that was booked through Boston-based EF Educational Tours.
The 2000 Prevost coach bus owned by New Jersey-based Journey Bus Line was being driven by 43-year-old Troy Gaston, of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania when it struck the Eagle Avenue overpass at exit 18 of the parkway, according to State Police.
State Troopers responded to the crash scene around approximately 9:08 p.m. and did not find any evidence of “braking, stopping or anything like that” before the bus hit the bridge, State Police Major David Candelaria said.
“I don’t have any evidence from anyone on the bus that they knew what was going to happen,” Candelaria said. “The only other thing I heard is that either a chaperone or the bus driver yelled ‘duck.’”
The Lakeview Fire Department and Nassau County Police Ambulance Bureau led the emergency response that included mutual aid assistance from surrounding agencies, including the Hempstead, South Hempstead and Valley Steam fire departments.
A post to the Lakeview Fire Department’s Facebook page stated that all of the occupants of the bus were triaged and brought to area hospitals within 45 minutes of the crash. Twenty-one of the patients were treated at Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow.
Two 17-year-old females suffered serious injuries, while the rest of the passengers had been treated and released, Candelaria said at a press conference Monday.
Most of the 38 students on the bus attend Huntington High School; 21 are from Huntington, nine from Huntington Station, five are from Halesite, one is from Huntington Bay and two from Mastic and Nesconset.
Huntington Superintendent Dr. James Polansky said Monday, “While injuries apparently ranged in severity, preliminary reports indicate that all have been treated and released, or remain under treatment.
Our thoughts and prayers remain with all families involved.”
Candelaria also said that the driver, Gaston, was unfamiliar with Long Island roads. He was using a non-commercial, standalone GPS that directed him onto the Southern State Parkway, despite the road being off limits to commercial vehicles due to the low height of its overpasses.
“His planned GPS route was via the Belt and Southern State Parkways,” Candelaria said, adding that if the 12-foot tall bus stayed in the middle lane of the parkway it could “generally pass through safely.”
The overpass that the bus struck has a less-than-8-foot clearance at its lowest point in the right hand lane.
Gaston willingly provided a blood sample for testing and registered a blood alcohol content of .00, police said. Results of a drug test were pending and no charges had been filed against Gaston as of deadline Wednesday.
Candelaria praised the “mass casualty” response from first responders that “probably saved lives.”
He added that the crash is still under investigation.