Chaperone Takes Wheel From Distressed Driver, Averts Tragedy

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — The Big Apple saw yet another wild ride involving a tour bus Thursday, and this one nearly ended in tragedy.

The bus driver swerved all over the road until one of the passengers grabbed the wheel, CBS 2’s Derricke Dennis reports.

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A group of high school seniors from Jacksonville, Florida were all smiles as they took on Manhattan this week, overlooking Times Square, but their trip took a terrifying turn Thursday morning.

The group had chartered an Academy bus to take them from their Times Square hotel to the airport for their flight home.

“I woke up to a quick shout by the chaperones, yelling at the bus driver,” one student said.

Just minutes into the trip, as they headed east on the Long Island Expressway toward JFK Airport, the driver suddenly started swerving and stopping in the middle of the highway. Everyone on the bus started screaming.

“I really thought he might crash, because at several points, he was just drifting over [going] through the Lincoln Tunnel, and he was really close to the wall,” teacher Michael Gray said.

Amazingly, a parent chaperone on the bus – who also happened to be a bus driver – took the wheel just as the charter bus began to swerve off the road. That parent said the bus driver admitted he was in pain and in no condition to drive.

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“At that point, I jumped up, grabbed the wheel, got him off, back on the road,” chaperone Mike Mackey said.

One of the other passengers on the bus called 911, and police met the bus at JFK. No charges were filed, but the Academy Bus Company – which has a depot in Hoboken – immediately suspended the driver.

The incident happened on the heels of a three wrecks involving tour buses in the last two weeks. First on March 12, 15 passengers died when a bus crashed on I-95. Two days later a Super Luxury Tours bus out of Wilkes-Barre, Pa., crashed on the New Jersey Turnpike, killing two and injuring dozens. On March 22, a bus out of Ridgefield, N.J.-based PRT Tours rolled down and embankment in New Hampshire, injuring 17.

“The driver, who has worked for the company for over a year without incident, made a decision that was a gross departure from the company’s safety and operations protocols,” the company said in a statement. “The company’s safety director was immediately dispatched and a full investigation is underway.”

The statement said that the driver violated protocol, suggesting that he should have just pulled over and not given up control of the bus.

Passengers say they’re convinced there was no alcohol involved, or driver fatigue, but instead pointed to some unknown medical condition.

Authorities said the investigation is ongoing.

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Thanks to the heroic passenger, about 40 people on board made it safety to JFK, and eventually home to Jacksonville, with memories of an exciting week in New York jarred by the horrifying moments of their trip to the airport.