Temple student killed in Megabus accident was on weekend trip to Toronto

The wreckage of a Megabus sits near the railroad bridge it struck about 2:30 a.m. Saturday in Onondaga County, N.Y. A Temple student and a N.J. teen were among the four people killed.
The wreckage of a Megabus sits near the railroad bridge it struck about 2:30 a.m. Saturday in Onondaga County, N.Y. A Temple student and a N.J. teen were among the four people killed.
Posted: September 13, 2010

The fourth person killed in Saturday's double-decker Megabus crash near Syracuse, N.Y., was identified Sunday as 18-year-old Deanna Armstrong of Voorhees.

According to the Syracuse Post-Standard newspaper, Armstrong had been a student at West Genesee High School in Upstate New York until recently; her family moved to New Jersey within the last several months. She left the school in her junior year and was returning to the area to visit friends.

The bus trip she took originated at 30th Street Station in Philadelphia on Friday night and ended in a crash early Saturday when the driver took the wrong road off an exit ramp and piloted the 13-foot-high bus into a CSX railroad bridge only 10 feet, 9 inches above the road.

Another passenger killed, Temple University sophomore Kevin Coffey, had started planning his weekend trip to Toronto while at home over the summer with his family in Manhattan, Kan.

The $40 ticket on the Megabus was within the limits of a student's thin wallet. "It was just a fun trip on the weekend," his mother, Maxine Coffey, said Sunday. "He liked to travel, and liked seeing different cities."

Coffey's identity was confirmed late Saturday.

"The future was open for him," his mother said Sunday in an interview from the family's home in Kansas. An honors student majoring in international business, "he would have liked to have worked with a company overseas," she said. "We couldn't have been prouder of him."

Coffey grew up in the Kansas State University college town with his mother, 53, an administrator at the school; his father, Ray, 56; and an older brother, Christopher, 23. Kevin Coffey was captain of his high school rowing team for two years.

Tributes to him started appearing Sunday on his Facebook page, where he described his athletic interests as "running, biking, sailing, camping, rowing."

One of his favorite television shows was It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

Temple president Ann Weaver Hart said, "The loss of one of our students is a loss for the entire university community," and added that counseling was available for students.

How the bus driver, John Tomaszewski, 59, of Yardville, N.J., erred is still under investigation, Onondaga County Deputy Sheriff Herb Wiggins said. The bridge is marked with numerous warnings signs, some with flashing yellow lights, according to the sheriff's office. The bus rolled onto its side after the crash.

Megabus spokesman Ronald Hanser said the firm had its own staff at the scene assisting with the inquiry. "He was off his designated route," but Tomaszewski "had driven this standard route many times before," Hanser said.

Tomaszewski was in serious condition at the State University of New York Upstate Medical University in Syracuse. He has cooperated with investigators from his hospital bed but as of Sunday had not yet signed a written copy of his statement.

"We're in a little fuzzy area as to why he did not stop . . . at the transportation center" as scheduled, Higgins said. "There are two different scenarios that we are trying to work on" to account for the accident.

The bus had 28 passengers aboard when it crashed shortly after 2:30 a.m. on the Onondaga Lake Parkway just off Interstate 81.

Passenger Reena Rai, 36, of Philadelphia, told the Post-Standard that as a repeat rider on the Megabus, she usually sat in the front seat on the upper level.

"This was the only time I said, 'Let's try the backseat for a change' "; she sat in the back of the upper level.

"I was very, very lucky," she said.

The other dead were identified as Ashwani Mehta, 39, of India, and the Rev. Benjamin Okerie, 35, of Malaysia.

The sheriff's department said the three Pennsylvanians who were on the bus and who remained hospitalized as of Sunday were Lo Wah Chu, 55, of King of Prussia; Carl Kerr, 51, of Philadelphia; and Mabel Tabb, 79.

Contact staff writer Nathan Gorenstein at 215-854-2747 or ngorenstein@phillynews.com.

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