WATERLOO — A quick-thinking soldier who had started his leave only 90 minutes earlier pulled off a New York highway to help rescue passengers from a tour bus that was incinerated after a collision with a tractor trailer that killed one person and injured 30 others.
State police Maj. Mark Koss said the bus, on its way from Ontario to New York City, had pulled over for 30 minutes because an emissions malfunction light had come on and the driver had to wait for the problem to clear. Two troopers stopped to ask why he had pulled over around 1 a.m., and after he explained the problem, they left to respond to an accident call.
The bus pulled away from the shoulder at around 1:30 a.m. and was struck from the rear by the tractor-trailer, Koss said, adding that it was unclear how soon it was hit after it pulled into the driving lane. Koss said the bus had its emergency flashers on.
The crash killed the truck driver, 59-year-old Timothy Hume of Dryden, Mich., and injured about 30 of the bus’s 52 passengers, two seriously. Koss said the passengers were all from Ontario and were 15 to 72 years old.
Both vehicles erupted in flames.
“As soon as the bus was struck, it did ignite in flames, so I think there was a lot of quick thinking,” Koss said. “And individuals who got there and got people off the bus.”
One of those who helped get people off the bus was Army Sgt. Jacob Perkins, a Fort Drum soldier who ran into the burning bus several times, Koss said.
“It says a lot about Sgt. Perkins and our people in the military that he’s going to take action and we’re very fortunate he did,” Koss said.
Police ticketed the bus driver because his license had been suspended in New York state. The driver, 52-year-old Rene Bisson of Welland, Ontario, has a valid license in Canada, but his New York license was suspended over two earlier speeding tickets, one in 2003 and one in 2006. Police said Bisson neglected to file paperwork to get his license reinstated after paying the speeding fines.
The bus was one of two chartered by London Life, an insurance company in London, Ontario, with employees, families and friends onboard. The other bus was not involved in the crash.
“The well-being of our staff, their families and friends is our primary focus,” London Life said in a statement. “We have sent a team to Rochester to help our staff and their fellow passengers with their immediate needs.”
Koss said the bus, manufactured in 2008, was inspected within the last four to six weeks in Canada.
The crash happened in the eastbound lanes of Interstate 90, at the northern edge of the Finger Lakes region.
Video taken after the crash shows the charred, skeletal remains of the bus. Bare wheel hubs gleamed in the early light, the rubber tires burned off. The demolished truck, behind the bus, was barely recognizable.
The bus was operated by Farr’s Coach Lines Ltd., a family-owned carrier based in Dunnville, Ontario. Dan Ronan, a spokesman for the American Bus Association said the company had a “satisfactory” rating, the top of three grades, in its latest federal safety inspection in 2007.
A message was left for a spokesman for the company.
The truck was operated by Matrix Expedited Services of Flint, Mich.
“Everyone at Matrix is deeply sorrowed by this tragic accident and the loss of our driver,” said company spokesman Matt Hare. “Tim was an upstanding professional driver with a great safety record. Our concerns and prayers go out to his family and all the passengers on the tour bus.”
The Michigan Department of State said Hume had a clean driving record there.
Seven people were taken to a hospital in Rochester. Three were released, one was in satisfactory condition, two were still under evaluation and one was being transferred to another hospital.
The crash follows one on Sunday that killed 2 people and injured 35 others about 45 miles west of Friday’s crash scene. In that accident, police said it appears a tire blowout caused a tour bus to veer off the road and flip over. On Tuesday, a car sideswiped a van full of Amish farmers only about 30 miles away, pushing the van under a tractor and killing five of the farmers.
Before Friday’s crash, 32 people were killed and 323 injured in 17 tour bus accidents this year, according to Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. That’s more than in all of 2010, when there 30 killed and 272 injured in 28 crashes.
Tour bus industry safety has drawn heightened attention since the March 12 crash of a bus returning to New York City’s Chinatown after an overnight excursion to a Connecticut casino. Fifteen people were killed when the bus flipped onto its side and struck a pole, peeling off its roof.
State Transportation Commissioner Joan McDonald said there have been about 3,000 surprise bus inspections throughout the state since the March crash. During that period, 304 drivers and 238 buses have been taken off the road. The state does 160,000 bus inspections every year.