The driver of a bus that veered off an overpass and crashed onto the Cross Bronx Expressway late on Thursday night appeared to be speeding — and declined to take a federally-mandated drug and alcohol test at the hospital, MTA officials reported Friday.
The unidentified 55-year-old male driver of the Bx35 bus, which went out of control off the University Avenue overpass just after 11 p.m. on Jan. 14, has an otherwise clean driving and safety record during his more than 11 years on the job, according to MTA Bus Company President Craig Cipriano.
On Saturday, it was reported that the driver has been suspended pending the ongoing investigation.
Cipriano said the driver suffered a broken jaw and various cuts and bruises, yet remained able to help the seven riders on board evacuate from the damaged 2017 New Flyer CNG articulated bus.
But during the preliminary investigation that followed, MTA Chief Safety Officer Patrick Warren told members of the press on Jan. 15, the authority gathered some disconcerting details about the incident.
First, data recovered from the bus’ black box recording device, GPS and cameras seemed to indicate that the Bx35 bus was moving too fast as the driver attempted to turn from University Avenue and onto the entrance ramp to the westbound Cross Bronx Expressway.
Warren said the vehicle was moving between 17 and 26 mph — and while that was within the city’s 25 mph speed limit, it was well above the “appropriate” speed of between 3 and 4 mph for navigating such a left turn with an articulated bus.
“We can say that while the investigation is ongoing, speed is clearly a factor and it is obviously a concern to us,” he said during a press conference Friday at the South Ferry Terminal in Lower Manhattan.
Questions have also been raised about the driver’s cognitive state at the time of the crash. Though the driver passed an NYPD-administered breathalyzer test, Warren said, he refused to take a mandated drug and alcohol test, which is required by both the MTA and the Federal Transit Administration.
Both Warren and interim MTA New York City Transit President Sarah Feinberg called the driver’s refusal “troubling.”
“The information shared with us [by the NYPD] is that the operator passed a breath test at the scene,” Feinberg said. “Our concern is that he refused to participate in the FTA-mandated and MTA-mandated drug and alcohol test, which is extremely rare for someone not to cooperate with it, and obviously, extremely troubling.”
Bus operators and other MTA employees are regularly tested for drug and alcohol consumption, which may impair their ability to operate buses, trains and other vehicles. Feinberg said the MTA conducted more than 38,000 drug tests in 2020, which she believes exceeded all other U.S. transit agencies.
MTA officials appeared to rule out any mechanical failures on the bus. Cipriano said the vehicle passed its most recent inspection at the West Farms Depot on Jan. 13.
“We have launched a full investigation into what happened, in close coordination with the NYPD and the FDNY,” Cipriano added.
An NYPD spokesperson indicated Friday that a motor vehicle investigation, not a criminal inquiry, remains ongoing.