NEW YORK — Thirteen people died Saturday when a bus returning from a casino flipped onto its side on a major highway in the Bronx and was sliced in half by the support pole for a large sign, authorities said.
The driver, who survived, told police he lost control after being clipped by a tractor trailer. Police began a hunt for the truck, which did not stop after the crash, New York Police Department spokesman Paul Browne said.
The wreck left a scene of carnage and closed the southbound side of Interstate-95 for hours while emergency workers attended to critically injured survivors and removed bodies.
The bus, operated by the charter company World Wide Tours, was headed to Manhattan's Chinatown neighborhood carrying a full load of passengers returning from the Mohegan Sun casino in Uncasville, Conn.
According to the driver, the bus was struck from behind as it entered the city around 5:30 a.m., Browne said. The bus began swerving, toppled and crashed into the support post for a highway sign indicating the exit for the Hutchinson Parkway.
The pole entered through the front window, then sheared the bus from front to back along the window line, cutting like a knife through the seating area and peeling the roof off all the way to the back tires.
Police and fire officials say the bus was carrying at least 31 passengers.
In addition to the fatalities, six passengers were critically hurt, a Fire Department spokesman said. A total of 19 were being treated at area hospitals.
Traffic was also closed on the northbound side of the highway after the crash, but was moving again by mid-morning.
Limo driver Homer Martinez, 56, of Danbury, Conn. happened on the scene just moments after the wreck and saw other drivers sprinting from their cars to see if they could assist the injured. He said they were horrified by what they found.
"People were saying, 'Oh my God. Oh my God,' holding their hands on their heads," Martinez said. "I saw people telling other people not to go there, 'You don't want to see this.'"
Firefighters and medics were on the scene quickly, running to the vehicle with bags and stretchers, he said.
"I see a lot of accidents. I've even seen accidents happen. But I've never seen anything like this," said Martinez.
Fourteen of the hurt passengers were being treated at Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx. A hospital spokeswoman, Barbara DeIorio, said some of the injuries were serious, but she had no immediate information on how many were gravely hurt. Another five patients were taken to St. Barnabas Hospital.