NEW YORK (Reuters) - The death toll rose to 15 on Saturday after a tour bus carrying sleeping gamblers returning from a Connecticut casino flipped over in the Bronx, shearing off its roof.
The National Transportation and Safety Board was investigating what may be a hit-and-run accident involving a tractor trailer.
The NTSB was trying to determine what caused the bus to swerve on Interstate 95 and topple onto a support pole for a highway sign. The pole sliced the bus in half along the windows, severing the rooftop from the vehicle.
None of the 32 people on board escaped death or injury in the horrific crash, said New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly.
New York City Police said 13 people died at the scene and two others died at the hospital, bringing the death toll to 15. Authorities said several other people with critical injuries and less serious injuries, including the bus driver, were rushed to the hospital.
The crash occurred in the early morning as the bus transported passengers from the Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut to New York’s Chinatown.
Chung Ninh, 59, said he was sleeping on board the bus when the crash occurred. The New York City resident said he escaped out the vehicle’s emergency exit and suffered broken glass cuts on his hands and minor injuries to his back that he got from pulling out other passengers.
“Everyone on the bus (was) asleep,” he said. “I wake up, I hear yelling and then I hear ‘Boom! Boom!’ After that, I see nothing.”
Ninh said he tried pulling one woman covered in blood from the bus but it appeared she was dead. He then attended to another man dangling upside down from the crash whose arm appeared to be severed.
Commissioner Kelly said it appeared the bus driver swerved on the road to escape a tractor trailer driver on the highway although it was not clear if both vehicles made contact. Police were searching for the tractor trailer driver, who did not stop after the crash, Kelly said.
The bus, chartered by World Wide Tours, was returning passengers to a stop in New York City’s Chinatown. Kelly said police officers who speak Mandarin and Cantonese were on the scene to help families of the victims.
Bloomberg said the city would be providing emergency help to the victims’ families throughout the day.
“Our and the entire city’s prayers, thoughts and sympathies are with the victims and their families and loved ones,” he said.
World Wide Tours issued a statement saying they were working with authorities investigating the crash.
“We are cooperating fully with investigators in trying to determine the exact sequence of events,” the statement said. “We are a family-owned company and realize words cannot begin to express our sorrow to the families of those who lost their lives or were injured in this tragic accident.”
Reporting by Aman Ali, editing by Barbara Goldberg and Greg McCune