Dayton elementary student among victims killed in weekend Pennsylvania bus crash

Nine-year-old Jaremy Vazquez, a Ruskin Elementary School student, was one of five people killed Sunday in a multi-vehicle accident on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

“The Dayton Public School District and members of the Ruskin Elementary school family, where Jaremy Vazquez attended, are deeply saddened at the news of her passing,” Dayton Public Schools Superintendent Elizabeth Lolli said in an emailed statement.

“Jaremy was a fourth-grade student. Grief counselors were at Ruskin Elementary on Monday and Tuesday for students and staff,” Lolli said.

Vazquez was active in the Miracle Maker after-school program and played in the Dayton Philharmonic Q The Music string orchestra at Ruskin, said Jan Lepore-Jentleson, executive director of East End Community Services, which operates the Miracle Maker program.

Family information and funeral arrangements for Vazquez are not yet available.

Vazquez was one of 56 passengers on a commercial bus operated by Z & D Tour Inc. traveling from Flushing, N.Y. to Cincinnati and Louisville when the 3:30 a.m. crash occurred on a rural, mountainous stretch of roadway about 30 miles east of Pittsburgh. The westbound bus passed a Fed Ex truck and then the bus driver lost control, striking a concrete barrier, traveling across lanes and up an embankment before rolling onto its passenger side and coming to a stop blocking the roadway, said Jennifer Homendy, a member of the National Transportation Safety Board, which is investigating the accident.

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Homendy, speaking at a Monday press briefing, said a Fed Ex tractor-trailer truck and a UPS tractor-trailer truck hit the bus. A second UPS tractor-trailer and a Mercedes passenger vehicle were also involved.

Killed were bus driver Shuang Qing Feng, 58, of Flushing, N.Y., bus passengers Vazquez and Eileen Zelis Aria, 35, of Bronx, N.Y., and UPS employees Dennis L. Kehler, 48, of Lebanon, PA and Daniel J. Kepner, 53, of Lewistown, PA, according to the Westmoreland County Coroner’s office.

More than 50 people were injured.

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“There were no lap shoulder belts on the motor coach. No seatbelts,” Homendy said.

She said NTSB has repeatedly recommended to that the federal government and states require seatbelts in buses or that manufacturers install them voluntarily.

Homendy said it is frustrating and devastating for investigators to “see accident after accident where a death or serious injury could have been prevented by a seatbelt, (a) lap shoulder belt in particular. We keep recommending it. We are not going to stop. Part of my job is to try to get those recommendations implemented, and our other board members are just as committed to that, so that is what we are going to keep doing.”

The initial report from NTSB should be ready in 10 days, but the full investigation will take 18 to 24 months, she said.

RELATED: Students ask for seat belts on their school bus

Investigators have removed the bus engine control module, which can be used to determine data on throttle position, speed, brake application and steering input, Homendy said.

Federal records show that the bus was last inspected on Dec. 17 and no issues were identified. Z & D Tour Inc. had motor carrier compliance reviews in November 2018 and in 2016, and there were no issues and no violations, she said. The company, which operates eight buses and has 15 drivers, has a satisfactory rating, according to the the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration website. There have been no inspections that led to buses being taken out of service or drivers being removed from the road during the 24 month period covered by the FMCSA data.

Company officials could not be reached for comment.

Homendy said officials are still awaiting information on the driver, who was just 10 miles from the stop in New Stanton, PA where a new driver would have taken the wheel.

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