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Teen’s dad sues bus company, driver over Southern State crash

The bus that hit the Eagle Avenue overpass

The bus that hit the Eagle Avenue overpass on the eastbound Southern State Parkway in the impound at the NYS Police Troop L Headquarters in Farmingdale on Monday. Credit: Howard Schnapp

The father of a Huntington teen who suffered a concussion and multiple facial fractures in Sunday night’s coach bus crash on the Southern State Parkway has filed suit against the New Jersey-based bus operator and the driver.

The lawsuit, filed Friday in Nassau State Supreme Court, is the first known legal filing to come from the April 8 crash, which injured dozens of students who were returning from a spring break trip to Europe.

The suit, filed by Richard Bonitz, of Huntington, seeks unspecified damages from Journey Bus Line and bus driver Troy Gaston for pain and suffering endured by his daughter, Erin, 17, a Huntington High School senior.

Erin Bonitz suffered a fractured jaw and cheek, a deep laceration to her face and a traumatic brain injury, according to the family’s attorney, Robert Sullivan of Garden City.

He said the trauma to her mental state may not be known for several months.

“This is not just a mistake,” Sullivan said Friday. “This is sheer laziness and negligence.”

Efforts to reach Journey Bus Line, based in Irvington, New Jersey, and Gaston, who lives in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, were not successful on Friday.

Gaston was using a noncommercial GPS system, which requires only a starting point and destination, when his bus hit an overpass on the Southern State Parkway at Eagle Avenue in Lakeview.

Commercial-grade GPS devices require drivers to type in the height, weight and length of their vehicle to avoid restricted roadways. Buses and tractor trailers are prohibited from entering the Southern State, which has several low bridge crossings.

A sign posted on the overpass indicates the clearance at Eagle Avenue at its lowest point is 7 feet, 7 inches. The height of the bus was approximately 12 feet.

The seven-page lawsuit says Journey was “negligent” in failing to equip its bus with a commercial GPS system.

“The company sent a driver out without a commercial GPS,” Sullivan said. “There is no excuse. They are in the transportation business.”

In light of the crash, the Cuomo administration is now trying to get insurers involved in efforts to keep truck drivers and bus operators off restricted highways.

The administration sent a letter Thursday to insurers, urging them to encourage commercial drivers to use global positioning systems that give warnings about restricted highways, low bridges and alternate routes.

Gaston has not been charged in the crash, which remains under investigation by the State Police.

Bonitz was one of the two most seriously injured students in the crash.

The bus, which was carrying 38 students and five chaperones, struck the overpass in Lakeview at full speed, shearing off the roof and crushing the metal down so low that it trapped one of the students.

Five other passengers had moderate injuries and about 36 received minor injuries.

With Bridget Murphy

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