MIDDLETOWN, N.Y. — The transportation company that owns the charter bus involved in the fatal crash in New York that killed two adults and injured multiple high school marching band members was placed on the state's most recent “unacceptable operators” list after failing several safety inspections last year.
Although New York State Department of Transportation officials said Regency Transportation LTD "has valid operating authority from the State Department of Transportation and a valid semi-annual inspection" and that the driver is "properly licensed," the company had failed five out of 15 total safety inspections during the state’s 2023 fiscal year.
At a news briefing Thursday evening, officials said 44 people — four adults, 40 students — were on their way to a band camp in Pennsylvania when the bus they were riding in rolled down a 50-foot embankment off Interstate 84, northwest of New York City.
Gina Pellittiere, 43 Beatrice Ferarri, 77, were killed in the crash. As of Thursday evening, at least five students were listed in critical condition.
"There's a lot of families who need some love tonight," New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said at the briefing. "Today was a day of terror for 44 passengers on a private coach line."
The bus was one of six in a caravan carrying students from Farmingdale High School to the camp in Greeley, in northeastern Pennsylvania.
Regency Transportation did not immediately respond to the USA TODAY Network's requests for comment.
NTSB said investigation could last 5 to 7 days
John Humm, who is overseeing the National Transportation Safety Board investigation, said the agency has not spoken with the driver and it's too early to determine if any of the passengers were wearing seat belts.
“Our goal is to find out what happened, why it happened and to make sure that something like this never happens again,” Humm said during a news conference late Friday afternoon at the New York State Police barracks in Middletown.
The New York State Police said a preliminary investigation Thursday indicated a failure of a front tire on the bus may have contributed to the crash.
“It’s really premature at this point to say the tire caused it," Humm said.
The NTSB deployed a seven-member team, including two family assistants, to the investigation, which will likely last five to seven days.
What to know about the bus company's inspection history
The bus operator, Regency Buses, has eight vehicles and 14 drivers and is based in the hamlet of Nesconset on Long Island, records show. The company is listed in Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration inspections records as Regency Transportation LTD.
Regency had 42 vehicle inspections, which resulted in 25 violations, over the past two years, records show.
The bus company reported one of its buses was involved in a two-vehicle crash last year on Long Island that resulted in one injury and a vehicle being towed, records show, but no citations issued to the bus driver.
Regency’s 25 violations included inoperable brake lamps and other inoperable lamps, as well as “no or defective emergency exits” and inadequate emergency exit markings. Other violations included false report of drivers record of duty status and driver failing to maintain an instruction sheet.
Carl Berkowitz, an expert on highway safety regulations and investigations, described the violations cited against Regency as minor.
“The buses would have been taken out of service if they were major violations,” he said. The bus involved in the crash, he added, would have had to meet robust federal operating standards for interstate commercial vehicles.
DOT listed Regency as 'unacceptable operator.' Why?
Still, under state guidelines, Regency was placed on the “unacceptable operators” list for the state Department of Transportation bus safety program. The company had five out of its 15 inspections in 2022-23 result in out-of-service, for a rate of about 33%.
Any buses with an out-of-service rate above 25% are placed on the unacceptable list, as first reported by the Times Union. The acceptable list of operators spans rates between 10% and 25%.
A total of 48 bus operators were on the most recent “unacceptable” list, records show, while about 200 operators were on the “acceptable” list. More than 1,200 operators made the “preferred” list, which covers out-of-service rates below 10%.
As for buses that pass inspection, the driver also has a safety checklist to go through as part of the commercial driver requirements, Berkowitz said.
“That bus doesn’t leave the yard if there is anything wrong on that checklist,” he added.
The list of factors involved in crashes spans everything from driver error and distractions to vehicle/equipment defects and roadway damage, said Berkowitz.
“There are so many factors,” he said, “so we shouldn’t jump to conclusions.”
This article originally appeared on Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: New York bus crash: What to know about company's inspection history