BELLEVILLE, N.J. (AP) — The owner of a trucking company whose dump truck collided with a school bus on a New Jersey highway said Friday he’s “deeply saddened” by the accident that killed a student and teacher and injured more than 40 other people.
In brief comments to The Associated Press at his office, Mendez Trucking owner Juan Munoz called the wreck a terrible tragedy.
Munoz didn’t comment on details of the accident, which occurred Thursday morning on Interstate 80 in western New Jersey. He referred questions to his attorney, who released a statement saying the company is “deeply saddened by this tragedy.”
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the involved family,” the statement said. “We are fully cooperating with the authorities in their investigations of this incident.”
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Gov. Phil Murphy said flags at state buildings would be flown at half-staff on Monday in honor of the victims.
The Morris County prosecutor’s office, which is leading the investigation, didn’t comment on reports that the bus driver had tried to make a U-turn across the highway median before the accident.
The crash occurred on a stretch of highway just past the exit for Waterloo Village, where the group from East Brook Middle School in Paramus was headed. The bus wound up on a guardrail close to a spot for emergency vehicles to make a U-Turn on the highway. A sign there reads “No Turns.”
Officials said Friday that most of the 43 injured people from the bus were discharged from hospitals, but they declined to provide details about the types and severity of the injuries they suffered. Officials also didn’t detail what injuries the truck driver suffered.
The husband of teacher Jennifer Williamson-Kennedy said in a statement to News 12 New Jersey that he was “in shock, devastated and totally crushed” by her death.
Kevin Kennedy said “my beautiful bride and I have been in total love every day of our lives since the day our eyes met on May 5th, 1994.”
Williamson-Kennedy was a social studies teacher and had taught for about two decades, according to state payroll records.
Schools were open Friday, with crisis counselors on hand to help students and staff. But evening activities were canceled, and standardized testing was canceled for Friday and next Monday.
The bus was one of three taking students from the school, about 15 miles (24 kilometers) west of New York City, to Waterloo Village, a historic site depicting a Lenape Indian community and once-thriving port about 5 miles (8 kilometers) from the crash scene. The other buses made it to the site but returned to the school about 50 miles (80 kilometers) away.
The crash left the bus lying on its side on the guardrail of Interstate 80 in Mount Olive, its undercarriage and front end sheared off and its steering wheel exposed. Some of the victims crawled out of the emergency exit in the back and an escape hatch on the roof.
There is no federal requirement for seat belts on full-sized school buses, but six states including New Jersey require them.
New Jersey Democratic state Sen. Joseph Lagana, who represents Paramus, called for a legislative hearing on school bus safety to review best practices and compare New Jersey to other states. Legislative leaders agreed to the idea but haven’t set a date yet.
Trucks operated by Mendez Trucking have been in seven crashes, none fatal, during the last two years before Thursday’s crash, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
A Mendez-owned dump truck driven by a driver police say had a suspended license struck and killed a French fashion stylist in New York in January 2011, according to court records.
Catalini reported from Trenton, New Jersey. Associated Press writer Michael R. Sisak in Philadelphia contributed to this report as did investigative researcher Randy Herschaft in New York.