NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Three people were killed and more than a dozen others were hurt when an MTA bus and private charter bus collided Monday morning in Flushing, Queens.
The driver of the charter bus — a former MTA bus driver who was fired two years ago after a drunken driving arrest — was among those who were killed.
Investigators said around 6:15 a.m., the charter bus, which is from the Dahlia Group, was heading east on Northern Boulevard when it struck the Metropolitan Transportation Authority bus whose driver was trying to make a right turn onto Northern Boulevard from Main Street.
As CBS2’s Reena Roy reported, the charter bus slammed right into the rear end of the city bus and spun it completely around.
The force of the crash sent the charter bus right through the front entrance of a fast food restaurant and cellphone store, killing charter bus driver Raymond Mong — the only person on board that vehicle.
Police said another person walking by on the sidewalk was pinned and killed. That victim was identified as Henry Wdowiak, 68, of Queens.
Also killed was one of the people on board the MTA Q20 bus — identified as Gregory Liljefors, 55, of Queens.
Fourteen others were hurt and had to be hospitalized in the crash, including some who are in critical condition. They suffered broken bones and gashes.
People on the street were left running for their lives as the smoke poured out of the buses from the impact.
“The impact was so strong, everybody moved, and it was all together; it looked like dominoes,” said witness Leonie Martinez. “It was crazy.”
“The sound was bad,” said witness Mike Ramos. “It sounded like an explosion and vibrated the car at the time.”
Cellphone video showed the moments after the collision, with the victims left bleeding on the street. Some were rushed off on stretchers and taken to nearby hospitals.
“I saw guy with his skull cracked open. I saw guys with cuts,” Ramos said. “They were saying, ‘Help! Help! Help me!’”
“Screams; like terrifying screams; like people screaming for help,” Martinez said.
One of the victims – Yong Jun Kim, 57, of South Korea, described the crash. He does not speak English, but said through an interpreter that he was sitting near the front of the MTA bus and banged his head so hard that he was knocked out for several minutes.
“We’ve had a really tragic morning here in Flushing, Queens,” Mayor Bill de Blasio told reporters at the scene. “Just shocking to see the scene over there, hard to compare it to anything I’ve ever seen — the sheer destruction from the impact of this collision.”
Debris from the crash was left strewn all over the intersection. A light pole and an awning were taken down, and two stores – including a Kennedy Fried Chicken – were severely damaged when the charter bus went into its façade.
“I can’t really explain — so many feelings,” Kennedy Fried Chicken franchise owner Shabir Farhat said in an exclusive interview. “Just shocking, just shocking.”
Firefighters responding to the scene also extinguished a fire that broke out inside the restaurant.
While the exact cause of the crash remains unclear, MTA Chairman Joe Lhota said speed appeared to be a factor.
“The buses spun around,” he said. “That requires an enormous amount of speed.”
Sources told CBS2 the driver of the charter bus ran a red light, and are also police looking into possibility that he fell asleep behind the wheel.
The MTA confirmed that deceased Dahlia bus driver Mong was fired by the agency in 2015 after he was arrested while off duty in Connecticut for drunken driving.
Police sources said Ming was arrested for driving drunk by Connecticut State Police in New Haven in April 2015.
Ming was fired once the MTA learned of his arrest from the Connecticut and New York departments of motor vehicles, the MTA said.
It was unclear when he was hired as a driver for Dahlia.
CBS2’s Ali Bauman went by Mong’s home Monday night, but the young women who answered the door did not want to talk.
Neighbors said Mong kept to himself.
“Like everyone — come home from work, and go to work,” a neighbor said.
Meanwhile, the accident Monday had almost every commuter on the block shaken.
“That bus was going way too fast for that corner,” said Roseanne Leone of Flushing.
As WCBS 880’s Alex Silverman reported, federal records also showed the Flushing-based Dahlia Group has a recent history full of unsafe driving violations – including two for speeding 15 mph over the limit.
In 2003 two people died when a Dahlia bus flipped on its way to New York city. In 2014, a Dahlia bus made an unscheduled stop and picked up a drunken man who pulled a box cutter and slashed a passenger. And in February 2016, a Dahlia bus on a run to a casino in Connecticut rolled off Interstate 95 – a 56-year-old-woman later died in her injuries.
The speedometer from the Dahlia bus was recovered at the scene. A police source says the speedometer on the Dahlia bus appears stuck at 60 miles per hour and police believe the tour bus driver was trying to beat the light when it struck the turning city bus, 1010 WINS’ Al Jones reported.
Surveillance video showed how fast the Dahlia bus was moving.
“We want to make sure that we understand exactly what happened and we prevent this from ever happening again,” Lhota said.
Longtime residents and elected officials say the intersection where the crash happened is known to be one of the most dangerous in the borough and that this is a deadly wake-up call that something must be done.
“My prayers are with the families and like I said, it breaks my heart,” resident Sherrell Jordan said. “Someone has to stand up and say this has to change, someone has to stand up and say we have to reroute these tour buses. They cannot continue to plague downtown Main Street Flushing.”
The crash occurred in U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.)’s district, WCBS 880’s Marla Diamond.
“We’re going to look into the record of the bus company and also other tour bus companies in the neighborhood who travel along this route,” she said.
The investigation into the crash is ongoing. The National Transportation Safety Board will also send a team to investigate.