MOUNT OLIVE, N.J. (AP) — A school bus taking children on a field trip to a New Jersey historic site collided with a dump truck Thursday, ripping the bus apart and killing multiple people, officials said.
The crash left the bus lying on its side on the guardrail of Interstate 80 in Mount Olive, its undercarriage and front end sheared off and its steering wheel exposed. Some of the victims crawled out of the emergency exit in the back of the bus and an escape hatch on the roof.
"I heard a scraping sound and we toppled over the highway," said student Theo Ancevski, who was sitting in the fourth row of the bus and was treated at a hospital for cuts and scrapes. "A lot of people were screaming and hanging from their seatbelts."
The Morris County prosecutor's office said there were multiple fatalities but declined to say how many before their families are notified.
The front end of the red dump truck was mangled in the wreck, which took place about 50 miles (80 kilometers) west of New York. The truck was registered to Mendez Trucking, of Belleville, and had "In God We Trust" emblazoned on the back of it.
"It's a horrific scene," Mount Olive Mayor Rob Greenbaum told The Record.
The Paramus school system said that the bus was taking students from East Brook Middle School to Waterloo Village, about five miles from the crash scene. Students on two other buses on the field trip returned to the school about 50 miles (80 kilometers) from the crash site and were reunited with their parents.
The exact number of children and adults on the bus wasn't known, but multiple people were taken to area hospitals. Police did not immediately comment on the cause of the crash.
At least two canine units were searching the woods along the roadside Thursday afternoon, but it wasn't clear why.
Zainab Qureshi, 11, told The Record she was on one of the two buses not involved in the crash. She said those two buses made it to Waterloo Village, but they were told by teachers and chaperones about a half hour later that they had to return to school because of bad weather.
She said students didn't find out about the accident until they arrived back at school.
Thuy Nguyen, a nurse from Paramus, was leaving the school with her eighth-grade son who was back at the school taking a standardized test and not in the bus. She said she rushed to the school after hearing the news.
"My heart just dropped, You hear the name of the school..." she said before trailing off.
Mendez Trucking has about 40 drivers and trucks, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. A message left with the company wasn't immediately returned. Its trucks have been in seven crashes in the last two years, none of them fatal, according to FMCSA.
Mendez was fined $22,850 in 2016 for violating regulations on inspections, repairs and maintenance and post-crash drug and alcohol testing, according to the FMCSA.
Mendez trucks have racked up more than 130 violations in the last two years, according to FMCSA, including 27 for excessive weight, 17 for leaking, spilling or falling cargo and four speeding violations — three of them this year.
Mendez has a higher than average vehicle out-of-service rate, which means inspections found violations which had to be corrected before the vehicle could be returned to service. Mendez's rate was 37.9 percent, according to FMCSA. The national average is 20.7.
Waterloo Village is a historic site depicting a Lenape Indian community and once-thriving port along the Morris Canal in northwestern New Jersey. It features several historic homes, a blacksmith shop, general store and more. It's a popular spot for school trips.
Sisak reported from Philadelphia. Associated Press writers Shawn Marsh, in Trenton, Mike Catalini in Paramus, David Porter in Morristown, and Jeff McMillan, Alexandra Villarreal, and Claudia Lauer in Philadelphia, contributed to this story.