Driver in deadly Megabus crash near Syracuse, N.Y., is acquitted of homicide charges

PETER CHEN / Syracuse (N.Y.) Post-Standard On Sept. 11, 2010, investigators examined the driver's section of the bus at the scene of a fatal accident just outside Syracuse, N.Y.
PETER CHEN / Syracuse (N.Y.) Post-Standard On Sept. 11, 2010, investigators examined the driver's section of the bus at the scene of a fatal accident just outside Syracuse, N.Y. (PETER CHEN / Syracuse (N.Y.) Post-Standard)
Posted: February 29, 2012

The driver of a Philadelphia-to-Toronto bus was acquitted Tuesday of homicide charges in the deaths of four passengers killed when the Megabus struck an overpass near Syracuse, N.Y.

A judge announced the verdict after a non-jury trial for John Tomaszewski, 60, of Yardville, Mercer County.

"It was a tragic accident and four people lost their lives," a weary Tomaszewski said as he left court in Syracuse. "It's something I'll have to deal with the rest of my life."

Tomaszewski and the bus company face civil lawsuits from several of the crash victims and their families, which had been on hold during the criminal proceedings. Lawyers for the victims said those civil suits would now resume.

The Sept. 11, 2010, accident killed a Voorhees teenager, a Temple University sophomore from Kansas, a Malaysian preacher, and an information technology specialist from India.

Police said that Tomaszewski made a wrong turn off an interstate late at night just outside downtown Syracuse, and that the double-decker bus - which was 13 feet, 1 inch high - slammed into a railroad bridge that was just 10 feet, 9 inches above the road.

Prosecutor Chris Bednarski said during the trial that Tomaszewski was using a personal GPS device as he tried to find his way to the bus station just before 2:30 a.m. and passed 13 "low bridge" warning signs, some with flashing yellow lights. The bus was carrying 29 passengers.

Tomaszewski's lawyer, Eric Jeschke, argued that state and CSX railroad officials were responsible for failing to fix the danger presented by the bridge, which has been the scene of numerous accidents. He also said Tomaszewski had limited experience and was on the Onondaga Lake Parkway for the first time after being diverted from his route, which had originated at 30th Street Station.

"Justice has been served, but it's humbling. He's relieved, but he's sad. He knows he's to blame," Jeschke said of Tomaszewski, who had recently moved from Bordentown Township, Burlington County.

Onondaga County Court Judge Anthony Aloi ruled that Tomaszewski did not act in a criminal manner that would make him guilty of the felony charges of criminally negligent homicide.

The judge also ordered the public release of a previously sealed report by a county grand jury that investigated the crash.

"There should be a permanent solution - lower the road, raise the bridge, or remove it," Aloi said. "Hopefully, a permanent solution to this problem will be found. That's not up to me."

According to the grand jury report, between 1987 and 2010, 53 vehicles hit the low bridge.

Those killed in the 2010 bus crash were Deanna Armstrong, 18, of Voorhees; Kevin Coffey, 19, of Manhattan, Kan., an international business major at Temple; Ashwani Mehta, 34, of India, and the Rev. Benjamin Okorie, 35, of Malaysia.

Tom Kline, a Philadelphia personal-injury attorney representing one of the injured passengers, said he would "move immediately" to proceed with a case seeking damages against the driver and the bus company.

The case, on behalf of Candice Burks of Mount Laurel, has been on hold in Philadelphia because of the criminal case. Burks, who now lives in Buffalo, N.Y., suffered significant brain injury in the crash, Kline said.


Contact Paul Nussbaum at 856-779-3912 or pnussbaum@phillynews.com.

This article contains information from the Associated Press and the Syracuse Post-Standard.

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