NEW YORK (AP) - A freak accident involving a dropped thermos might have caused a bus crash that killed three people in New York City, federal safety investigators said Thursday.
The National Transportation Safety Board said a thermal bottle could have gotten wedged in the brake and accelerator pedals of the charter bus at the center of the September 2017 crash, preventing the driver from braking.
Investigators said they weren't sure the thermos got stuck but couldn't rule it out. Ultimately, they pegged the probable cause of the wreck as unintentional acceleration and an inability to brake "for reasons that could not be conclusively determined from the information available."
Messages were left Thursday for the bus company, Dahlia Group Inc., and a lawyer who has represented it.
The charter bus blew through a red light at a Queens intersection, slammed into a city bus, barreled across a sidewalk and hit a building, ripping the facade off a fried chicken restaurant and sparking a small fire.
Charter bus driver Raymond Mong, pedestrian Henry Wdowiak and a passenger on the city bus, Gregory Liljefors, were killed. Sixteen other people were injured in the early-morning wreck on Sept. 18, 2017.
It prompted scrutiny of the bus company's safety history and Wong's off-duty driving record, which had cost him a job as a city bus driver.
The NTSB found no problems with the vehicle's accelerator or brake system, and no evidence that Wong's experience, training or activities before the collision played any role in it.
A message was left Thursday at a possible phone number for his wife.
The NTSB found the bus accelerated from the 30 mph speed limit to about 60 mph in about 90 seconds before the crash. Meanwhile, the dashboard camera recorded exclamations from the driver and the sounds of metal rattling.
Then investigators discovered a metal thermal bottle near the vehicle's control pedals.
Experimenting with a similar thermos, they saw the bottle could be lodged between the pedals in such a way that it held down the accelerator while blocking the use of the brake.
Objects on car floors have caused pedal problems before. In 2009, Toyota recalled millions of vehicles because the floor mats could snag the gas pedals and cause sudden acceleration.
EXCERPT FROM NTSB REPORT
NTSB investigators considered the possibility that an object became lodged beneath or between both the brake and the accelerator pedals, resulting in uncontrolled acceleration and the inability to apply the brakes. At the scene of the crash, investigators found a metal thermos near the control pedals. When interviewed, the driver’s wife stated that he had taken his thermos for the trip. The thermos could potentially explain the metal rattling heard on the Garmin audio just before the driver’s first remark.
Investigators examined the audio recording to determine if a dropped thermos could have created the sound, but the results were inconclusive. Metallurgists from the NTSB Office of Research and Engineering examined marks on the thermos to determine if they could have been caused by contact with the vehicle control pedals; no physical evidence was present to indicate this type of interference. Investigators also obtained a similar thermos and attempted to lodge it in the pedals of an exemplar motorcoach. They found that it was possible to position the thermos beneath and between the pedal controls such that it prevented brake application while depressing the throttle."