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Boy, 6, dies in Hempstead bus-house crash

A NICE bus crashed into a house in

A NICE bus crashed into a house in Hempstead, resulting in multiple injuries and at least one death, officials said. (Nov. 27, 2012) Credit: Howard Schnapp

A Nassau County bus hit a pedestrian before crashing into a multifamily house in Hempstead Tuesday night, killing a 6-year-old boy in a front bedroom and injuring his 7-year-old brother and 11 passengers, authorities said.

The bus driver was heading west on Fulton Avenue at about 9:15 p.m., when he saw a pedestrian crossing the four-lane road and honked his horn, Nassau police said.

The pedestrian continued crossing north and the driver swerved, making a hard right. He hit the pedestrian and slammed into the front bedroom of the multifamily home on Fulton Avenue, police said.

"The bus was trying to avoid the pedestrian in the roadway and wound up hitting the pedestrian anyway," said Lt. Frank McNamee of the Hempstead Village police.

The unidentified pedestrian was taken to Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow for treatment of nonlife-threatening injuries, McNamee said. The passengers were treated for minor injuries at local hospitals, Nassau police said.

Police did not release the names of the brothers. The 7-year-old was taken to Winthrop-University Hospital in Mineola, where he was also treated for nonlife-threatening injuries, police said.

After the bus hit the house, the 6-year-old was pinned between the vehicle and an interior part of the building, McNamee said.

He was pronounced dead at 10:20 p.m. at Winthrop with his parents by his side, police said.

Witness Alida Gutierrez, a resident of the house, said she was inside at the time of the crash, along with several other residents. The two brothers were in the front bedroom; the older boy was sleeping while the younger one, a first-grader, was going to close the front bedroom door when the bus came through the house, she said.

After the bus hit, she and her husband and daughter ran out of the house. They found the older boy, "but the baby they didn't find," she said.

She said when the accident happened, "my daughter was close to the bus, but God was good" and the bus missed her.

There were about 20 people on the bus, police said.

The accident happened at the intersection of Fulton Avenue and Nassau Place. Police said no charges were filed. The two-story white house on Fulton Avenue is set back about 12 feet from a four-lane section of the street at the end of Nassau Place. A three-way intersection with traffic lights ends in front of the house.

Hempstead police and fire departments and Nassau police were among the emergency units who responded to the crash, officials said.

Officials were using part of a Burger King across from the crash scene as a staging area.

Edgar Lazo, who also lives in the basement of the home, said he was sleeping when he heard a big crash and people saying, "Oh my God."

He and other residents smashed a window to try to pull out the boys. While they got the older one, they could not reach the younger boy and they searched fruitlessly for about 50 minutes in the rubble, he said, Later firefighters arrived and helped to find the boy.

Witness Ricky Hernandez, 24, of Hempstead, said a car cut the bus off, and the bus swerved to prevent an accident but instead crashed into the house.

"I was shocked like everyone else," he said. He said people getting off the bus complained of pain.

The owner of the home, Leo Diliberti, 84, of Levittown, said the boys' family has lived there about a year and a half.

"They're excellent people -- never give us any trouble," Diliberti said. "It's a tragedy. My wife was crying."

Diliberti went to the scene right after the accident but police would not let him go up to the house. "They told us we couldn't get to the house. It's not structurally sound. . . . I'm so sorry. The damage is nothing. The child is what's important. It's just a shame. It just broke our hearts."

The bus is part of the Nassau Inter-County Express (NICE) system, officials said. A NICE bus official was on the scene and declined to comment.

Veolia Transportation took over Nassau's bus line on Jan. 1, naming it Nassau Inter-County Express Bus, and soon after cut service to some bus routes to fill a budget gap.

The switch to Veolia from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's LI Bus was made by Nassau to rein in costs for bus service, which the MTA ran for 37 years.

Nassau was providing $9.1 million toward the system's $141 million budget, and the MTA said it no longer would make up the difference. Unless Nassau came up with $26 million more, the MTA said it would be forced to eliminate half of LI Bus' routes.

County Executive Edward Mangano in June 2011 chose Veolia to take over the system rather than pay MTA more, and MTA voted to terminate its pact with the county.

In the first six months of NICE's service, the rate of accidents fell by 60 percent. While the MTA said severe weather early in 2011 played a role, NICE chief executive Michael Setzer said the drop had more to do with Veolia's increased focus on safety.

With Deon J. Hampton

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