NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y. -- The tour bus company whose vehicle crashed early Wednesday on Interstate 95 on its way back from Foxwoods Casino, injuring all 24 people on board, had been cited four times in the past 16 months for driver fatigue.
Star Tag of Brooklyn's most recent safety violations were on Feb. 4, when it was cited during a roadside inspection for a log violation related to fatigued driving, inadequate bus emergency exit markings and inoperable required lamps. The company was also cited for fatigued driving or speeding on Nov. 10, Aug. 22 and March 18, 2011.
The March 2011 bus accident that killed 15 people and injured 18 on I-95 not far from Wednesday's crash was probably caused by a combination of fatigue and the early morning hour, the National Transportation Safety Board concluded in a hearing last month.
"Together, fatigue and speed are an especially lethal combination," NTSB Chairwoman Deborah Hersman said at the hearing. She described the accident as a "deadly crash (that) did not have to happen."
Both buses were returning gamblers from Connecticut casinos. The tour bus coming from Foxwoods casino Wednesday crashed at 6:20 a.m.
The driver was most seriously injured. Emergency responders found him on the side of the road about 150 yards behind the bus, banged up but conscious and talking, said New Rochelle Fire Chief Louis DiMeglio.
"He was out of the bus," he said. "He somehow exited the bus mid-accident."
The bus initially hit the highway median and then skidded to the right and slid along the guard rail for a couple hundred feet, DiMeglio said. The bus was heavily damaged in front but the inside was intact despite a few broken side windows.
The bus was still creeping forward when a trooper arrived and he pulled his car in front of it to bring it to a stop, DiMeglio said.
State police are investigating the cause of the accident. They told the Associated Press that the bus was headed to Queens.
Six passengers were taken away on stretchers and 17 were able to walk but complained of neck, back or other injuries and were hospitalized.
Fifteen firefighters responded from New Rochelle and New York City also sent ambulances and emergency responders.
A man who answered the phone at Star Tag of Brooklyn this afternoon said he did not know anything about the crash. He said all the company's representatives were off for the holiday.
According to Foxwoods' website, Star Tag runs buses from New York City's Chinatown, Elmhurst and Flushing neighborhoods. The casino's website indicates that three Star Tag buses were scheduled to leave Foxwoods for Manhattan and Queens at 4:15 and 4:45 a.m.
Star Tag has a "satisfactory" rating on the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's website, which also noted that the company has not had any crashes in the past two years. It operates eight buses and it has 15 drivers, according to the FMCSA's website.
The FMCSA in May shut down 26 bus operators that carry an estimated 1,800 passengers daily along the heavily traveled I-95 corridor between New York and Florida.
Regulators described their action as "the largest single safety crackdown in the agency's history" and the culmination of a yearlong effort to improve bus safety in the wake of three deadly charter bus accidents last year: the one on I-95 on the Bronx-Westchester border and two others in New Jersey and Virginia.
Ernie Garcia, Terence Corcoran and Elizabeth Ganga
The Journal News