MOUNT OLIVE, N.J. (CBSNewYork) – A student and teacher were killed when a school bus on its way to a field trip collided with a dump truck on Thursday morning in Mount Olive, New Jersey.
The crash happened around 10:20 a.m. on Interstate 80 westbound near Exit 25 and Route 206.
Sources tell CBS2 the school bus missed an exit and was trying to take an illegal U-turn when the collision occurred. The bus was carrying a group of fifth graders from East Brook Middle School in Paramus.
The body of the bus was ripped from its chassis, which sprawled across the interstate, while the rest of the vehicle sat on the median.
Gov. Phil Murphy said there were 38 students and seven adults on the bus.
A student and teacher were killed, and 43 other people on the bus were hospitalized. The dump truck driver was also hurt, for a total of 44 injured. One child was in a medically induced coma late Thursday night.
Sources have identified the deceased teacher as 51-year-old Jennifer Williamson.
“Some patients are in critical condition and currently undergoing surgery, so please keep everybody in your prayers,” Murphy said.
“You can imagine, this is a shaken community,” he continued. “Everyone’s trying to make sense of this.”
“Tough day here in Paramus. Sixty five years I lived in this town, and it’s difficult to stand here today to talk about our education community suffering so deeply,” said Bergen County Executive Jim Tedesco.
“Make sure that when you leave here today, for those of you that have loved ones, you go home and you say how much you love them and give them a kiss, because there are people that, tonight, are struggling to be able to do that, and in some cases not able to,” he added.
Mount Olive Mayor Robert Greenbaum said the first word he got about the crash included “entrapment and possible ejections.”
“I have never seen anything like that. I can only describe it as horrific,” Greenbaum said.
“It doesn’t take long to look at this accident scene to understand how horrific it was and how serious the injuries could be,” he continued. “Basically the bus was sheared apart from the top part of the bus from the drive train of the bus which remains on Route 80, with the top part of the bus kinda pitched at 45 degree angle in the median.”
“As somebody who has been a first responder for over 40 years, these are not the types of incidents you want to have to respond to,” said Tedesco.
The backpacks and the belongings of the students and the chaperones were strewn all over the highway, CBS2’s Hazel Sanchez reported. The wreck occurred about a mile from the trip’s destination at Waterloo Village.
The bus was one of three on the field trip. The other two buses were not involved in the crash and returned safely to the school for students to be reunited with their families.
All New Jersey school buses are required to be equipped with seatbelts.
“A lot of people were screaming and they were hanging from their seatbelts,” 11-year-old Theo Ancevski said.
“I was sitting in the front, in the fourth row closest to the front, and then I heard a scraping sound and we toppled over the highway,” Ancevski said. “So then a few people got out of the windows and they got out of the emergency exit on the top, on the roof.”
“I am stressed. When we heard about this – I work in the city, so it was like a nightmare to get here at first. We’re thankful to God that everything is OK,” Theo’s father Pavle Ancevski said. “I hope the other kids are OK because we have no information about them. A couple of them kids we saw upstairs, they were good.”
Emotional parents rushed to area hospitals including Morristown Medical Center to check on their children.
“My granddaughter. She have a broken arm and a scratch on her leg,” distraught grandparent Beatrice Martinez told CBS2’s Scott Rapoport.
“How do I feel? I got my kids, that’s all that matters,” one parent told Carlin.
School was dismissed early Thursday, as parents were reunited with their children.
“We would like to thank the Paramus Community for their support during this very difficult time. Our hearts go out to the families of our students, staff and community members. We also thank the first responders who did a tremendous job,” the school district said in a statement Thursday night.
Schools will be open Friday, with crisis counselors on hand to help students and staff, Tedesco said. Evening activities were canceled Thursday and Friday.
Field trips have been canceled for the remainder of the year, officials said.
Paramus Public Schools said family members of those students aboard the bus could contact Paramus Police at (201) 262-3400 for more information. Paramus Police said additional information could be obtained by calling (888) 407-9628.
Holly Tedesco, the police commissioner and council president of Paramus, said it was a “sad situation inside [the school] right now.”
“I can only imagine that there are some very significant injuries and my heart goes out to the Paramus community,” said Greenbaum.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the families, the teachers, the counselors, the staff, the extraordinary first responders, who in many cases in the Paramus family were at the scene of this awful accident knowing, in some cases, their kids,” Murphy said.
The dump truck belongs to Mendez Trucking from Belleville. The company told CBS2 the driver is about 30 years old and experienced.
The New Jersey State Department of Health’s disaster team was on the scene to assist with family reunification and counseling.
The NTSB said after gathering preliminary information they will not be investigating the crash.
Traffic was initially shut down on I-80 in both directions near the site of the accident. Click here to check current traffic conditions.