Non-commercial GPS eyed in Long Island bus crash that injured dozens

LAKEVIEW, Long Island (WABC) -- Authorities say the driver of a charter bus full of high school students that crashed into a low-hanging overpass on a Long Island parkway was using a non-commercial GPS device that didn't warn him about the hazard in time to prevent the accident.

Two passengers, both 17-year-old females, were seriously injured and remained hospitalized Tuesday. The driver and 43 other passengers on board were taken to several area hospitals, where they were treated and released.

The top of the bus was sheared off when it hit an overpass near Exit 19 of the Southern State Parkway -- where buses, tractor-trailers and other commercial traffic are banned -- in Lakeview just after 9 p.m. Sunday

State police Major David Candelaria said the driver never slowed down before the crash.

"There was no signs of braking, stopping, anything like that," Candelaria said.

The driver also didn't have the benefit of a high-tech warning system being installed by the state Department of Transportation that uses electronic sensors that emit invisible beams to detect any trucks or buses heading toward low overpasses along parkways built in the 1930s and 1940s for cars alone. The devices were recently installed near the site of the wreck but were still being tested, Department of Transportation spokesman Joseph Morrissey said.

"Safety is our top priority, and while we can't comment on an ongoing investigation, throughout this area there is signage indicating height restrictions and making clear that commercial vehicles are prohibited from driving on parkways," Morrissey said.

The commercial bus from Journey Bus Tours was traveling eastbound from JFK Airport. Authorities say 38 students from various Long Island schools, five chaperones, and one driver were returning from a trip to eastern Europe.

Video showed teenagers sitting and standing outside of the white damaged bus, some draped in blankets, as firefighters inspected the wreckage. Multiple ambulances and firetrucks responded to the scene.

"I think the entire incident could have been a whole lot worse," South Nassau Chief of Emergency Services Dr. Joshua Kugler said. "Fate has a lot to do with it. People, if they were standing on the bus at any particular time and someone became an airborne projectile, could have had a different outcome."

Police say that driver, 43-year-old Troy Gaston, of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, expressed remorse over the accident. Authorities said he possessed a valid Pennsylvania commercial vehicle driver's license, and he did not have any alcohol in his system. A drug evaluation was pending, but he was not believed to be impaired.

The minimum clearance on the parkway is 7 feet, 10 inches, and accidents involving vehicles striking overpasses are not uncommon on the parkway.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)
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