Driver in deadly bus crash was illegally employed by charter company

 The charter bus driver who killed two people plus himself when he sped through a red light and into a city bus in Queens was working illegally for his employer, officials said Tuesday.

Raymond Mong, 49, was driving a two-year-old tour bus owned by Flushing-based Dahlia Group Inc., and travelling up to 62 mph at the time of the Monday crash in Flushing that also injured 16 people, officials said.

The Department of Motor Vehicles has “no record” of being notified by Dahlia of Mong’s employment at the bus company as required by state law given his prior arrest for DUI, according to DMV spokeswoman Tiffany Portzer.

“This is an ongoing state and federal investigation and we cannot comment further,” Portzer said.

Before Mong crashed the Dahlia tour bus into a Q20 bus packed with riders, he was arrested for drunkenly causing a three-car crash in Connecticut in 2015.

Police records show Mong was behind the wheel of a 2002 Honda on April 10, 2015 when he caused the chain car crash on the Exit-51 off-ramp from southbound I-95 and fled.

State police later found Mong and arrested him on several charges including operating under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

The DUI bust cost Mong his job as a bus driver for the MTA, where he worked for several years before Dahlia, according to sources.

Meanwhile, Robert Accetta of the National Transportation Safety Board, which is investigating the crash, said Tuesday at a press conference that investigators determined through a surveillance video of the wreck that the tour bus was travelling between 54 and 62 mph. The speed limit in that area is 30 mph.

Accetta said that the agency does not have a cause of the crash yet and that the on-scene investigation will last between 6 and 10 days.

“Throughout the next few days our investigators will work on scene to thoroughly document the accident site and gather factual information,” Accetta said. “Our mission is to understand not just what happened, but why it happened and to recommend changes to prevent it from happening again.”

Authorities are awaiting toxicology tests to determine if Mong was under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of the crash.

Investigators are also probing whether driver fatigue played a role in the deadly wreck.

According to Accetta, Mong was properly licensed in the state of New York and had a valid medical certificate.

Investigators are also looking at records from the tour bus company involving driver’s logs, vehicle inspections and maintenance and operating procedures as well as a GPS device found in the commercial bus driven by Mong.

Dahlia has been cooperative with officials, said Accetta.

Teen BMW driver charged in Budd Lake hit-and-run

Two people are facing drunk driving charges for operating the same BMW before and after a motor vehicle crash, Mount Olive Police said.

At about 11:16 p.m. Wednesday, Officer Matthew Anderson responded to Route 46 in Budd Lake near the entrance to the Route 80 East ramp for a reported traffic accident, police said.

The caller said a green BMW was involved in the accident and had left the scene, police said.

Anderson made contact with the victim, who was driving a 2006 Volvo on Route 46 East when it was struck by the BMW, police said.

The BMW involved was found at the nearby Conoco gas station on Route 46 West, police said.

It was occupied by Saad Shah, 19, of Budd Lake, and Dylan Martell, 20, of Dover, police said.

An investigation revealed Shah was driving the BMW at the time of the cash, and Martell drove the vehicle away from the crash and into the Conoco parking lot, police said.

While speaking with Shah and Martell, Anderson detected the odor of an alcoholic beverage and both appeared to be impaired, police said.

Shah and Martell were then arrested and taken to police headquarters, where both submitted to chemical breath testing.

Shah was charged with driving while intoxicated, reckless driving, leaving the scene of an accident, failure to report an accident, and failure to exhibit a driver’s license.

Martell was charged with driving while intoxicated, reckless driving, and failure to maintain lane.

Both Shah and Martell were released to a sober driver pending a court appearance.

What is en banc?

In law, an en banc session (French for “in bench”) is a session in which a case is heard before all the judges of a court (before the entire bench) rather than by a panel of judges selected from them. The equivalent terms in banc, in banco or in bank are also sometimes seen.

Youngsville woman dies in motorcycle crash

ST. MARTIN PARISH, LA (WAFB) -A 45-year-old St. Martin Parish woman is dead after a motorcycle crash, authorities say.Shortly after 6 p.m. on Saturday, troopers from Louisiana State Police Troop I began investigating a single vehicle fatal crash on US-90 westbound near the St. Martin / Iberia parish line.State police say the crash claimed the life of Ruiella Carriere,45, of Youngsville.The initial investigation by State Police showed the crash happened as 46-year-old Larry Bourque, also of Youngsville, was operating a 2004 Harley Davidson motorcycle westbound on US-90.Carriere was a passenger on the motorcycle, state police say.For unknown reasons, Bourque failed to negotiate a right curve and the motorcycle ran off the left side of the roadway.The motorcycle traveled into the median and struck a sign causing the driver and Carriere to be ejected off of the motorcycle.Initially, state police say Bourque and Carriere sustained moderate injuries and were transported to Lafayette General Medical Center for treatment.At about 11 p.m., state police were notified by medical personnel that Carriere died to her injuries.State police say it is unknown if impairment is a factor in the crash. A toxicology sample was taken from Bourque and submitted to the Louisiana State Police Crime Lab for analysis, standard in crash fatalities.Bourque and Carriere were both wearing helmets, but the helmets were removed before state police arrived. State police investigators are trying to determine if the helmets were DOT approved.This crash remains under investigation.State police issued on statement on motorcycle safety, saying:Troopers encourage all riders to take an approved motorcycle safety course. These courses teach safe riding practices and help you apply safe riding strategies that can help reduce your chance of injury should a crash occur. Making good choices while riding a motorcycle, such as never driving while impaired and obeying all traffic laws, can often mean the difference between life and death.

Source: Youngsville woman dies in motorcycle crash – WAFB 9 News Baton Rouge, Louisiana News, Weather, Sports

Mass. high court says sobriety tests aren’t evidence for pot use

Members of the Mass. State Police performed a sobriety test on a driver in Chicopee in 2011.

The state’s highest court on Tuesday limited which evidence can be used to prosecute drivers suspected of operating under the influence of marijuana, handing a victory to civil rights advocates in a closely watched case.

Under a unanimous ruling by the Supreme Judicial Court, Massachusetts police officers can no longer cite their subjective on-scene observations or sobriety tests to conclude in court testimony that a driver was under the influence of marijuana.

The judges also noted the effects of marijuana on its users are more complex than of alcohol and less obviously correlated to the amount consumed, making it difficult for untrained observers to know whether someone is high.

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“Because the effects of marijuana may vary greatly from one individual to another, and those effects are as yet not commonly known,” the court said, “neither a police officer nor a lay witness who has not been qualified as an expert may offer an opinion as to whether a driver was under the influence of marijuana.”

Police officers can still arrest drivers they suspect are high and describe in court how the drivers behaved during the roadside tests. For example, an officer could tell a jury a driver was unable to walk in a straight line. But under the ruling, the officer could not describe the task as a “test” or say the driver “failed” it.

Similarly, an officer could tell a jury that a driver smelled strongly of marijuana and seemed confused but could not use such observations to conclude the driver was high

However, the court said jurors “are still permitted to utilize their common sense” in considering whether the sobriety assessments and other evidence indicate impairment.

The defendant in the case is Thomas Gerhardt, who was stopped in Millbury in February 2013 by a State Police trooper for allegedly driving with his lights off, according to a statement of facts agreed to by both sides in the case.

The trooper testified that he saw smoke inside the vehicle and smelled marijuana and that Gerhardt acknowledged smoking about a gram of marijuana. Gerhardt was unable to properly do the “walk-and-turn” test, the trooper said, and struggled to stand on one foot.

The case has not yet gone to trial, amid legal wrangling over which evidence can be admitted.

Rebecca Jacobstein, Gerhardt’s attorney, called the ruling a victory over “junk science.”

“The big take-away here is that for the government to introduce something as science, it actually has to be science,” Jacobstein said.

The decision, she argued, does not make it harder for law enforcement to deter stoned driving.

“I look at this more as a protection of people’s right to have only meaningful and relevant evidence used against them,” she said.

A spokesman for Worcester County District Attorney Joseph D. Early Jr., whose office is prosecuting Gerhardt, said the decision “provides much-needed clarity regarding police testimony,” and prosecutors will use the court’s guidance in bringing the case to trial.

Walpole police Chief John Carmichael Jr., a spokesman for the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association, doesn’t expect the ruling to significantly change how officers conduct traffic stops.

“At the end of the day, officers are still going to rely on all their observations and the total circumstances of the stop, and base their arrests on probable cause,” Carmichael said. “We don’t think about conviction rates all the time; we think about public safety.”

Beyond standard sobriety tests, Carmichael said, officers carefully watch how a driver acts in general. He added he was relieved those observations will be still heard in court.

“We’re assessing demeanor, attitude, attention span, behavior — everything,” he said.

Carmichael called on the state Legislature to follow Colorado and Washington, two other states where recreational marijuana is legal, in establishing a blood concentration limit for THC, the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis.

“Our law doesn’t have the teeth it needs,” he said.

Both states use a threshold of 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood; in Washington any driver at or above that level is automatically considered impaired, while in Colorado those drivers can dispute their condition in court. However, some experts have questioned the validity of any law that specifies a particular blood concentration for impairment.

Jay Winsten, director of Harvard University’s Center for Health Communication and a pioneer of OUI awareness campaigns, praised the court for taking a “middle ground” approach.

“I think it was a wise, smart, and careful decision,” Winsten said. “It keeps field sobriety tests in the picture without allowing police officers to claim they constitute unequivocal evidence of marijuana intoxication, which would be suggesting something that goes beyond what’s currently known.”

“In the end,” he added, “it’s up to the common sense of jurors.”

Source: Mass. high court says sobriety tests aren’t evidence for pot use – The Boston Globe

PD: Impaired driver takes out road sign, goes airborne over railroad tracks – WISC

MADISON, Wis. – A Verona man faces charges after he took out a road sign and went airborne over some railroad tracks while driving down South Park Street, police said.A witness told police it appeared a driver was asleep at the wheel as the car he was driving around 5:30 p.m. in the 1800 block of South Park Street drifted across southbound lanes, over the median and into the northbound lanes.The car then took out a road sign, drove over the sidewalk and down an embankment, according to a release. The car went airborne over some railroad tracks before slamming into a railroad control box, causing thousands of dollars in damage.The witness unbuckled the driver, 24-year-old Travis J. Busse, and paramedics delivered Naloxone, police said. Busse was taken to a hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.Busse faces tentative charges of third-offense operating while intoxicated, driving the wrong way on a divided highway and operating while revoked.

Source: PD: Impaired driver takes out road sign, goes airborne over railroad tracks – WISC