By Mark Hallum
After reports surfaced that the charter bus driver in Monday’s collision, which left three dead and 16 injured, had been fired from the MTA in 2015 for DWI, the state Department of Motor Vehicles said it had no knowledge that Raymond Mong, 49, was still behind the wheel in Flushing.
Mong was at the controls of a Dahlia Travel & Tours bus when he slammed into a city bus making a right turn from Main Street onto Northern Boulevard, which sent the MTA 20 bus spinning. Both vehicles ended up on the sidewalk, causing substantial damage to Kennedy’s restaurant on the southeast corner of the intersection.
“DMV has no record of being notified by Dahlia Transportation of Mr. Mong’s status as a driver for Dahlia at the time of the crash, as required by New York State Vehicle and Traffic Law Article 19-A,” DMV spokeswoman Tiffany Portzer said. “This is an ongoing state and federal investigation and we cannot comment further.”
The state DMV only inspects vehicles and does not oversee the driving records of operators for bus companies. And since the agency only monitors driving records in New York, it was unaware of Mong’s DWI conviction which took place in Connecticut.
A National Transportation Safety Board investigator held a news conference Tuesday with updates on the deadly collision between an MTA Q20 bus and tour bus, which he said was traveling at about 58 mph in a 30 mph zone when it struck the city bus.
NTBS investigator-in-charge Robert Accetta said the agency sent investigators to Flushing to examine possible factors behind the crash, such as driver fatigue. Two investigators visited the Dahlia Group, the Flushing company which owns the tour bus, to check driver logs, bus maintenance records and other data. Accetta said the company was cooperating.
The NTSB official said the agency’s experts in Washington examined video footage showing the Dahlia bus traveling eastbound and striking the MTA bus as it turned onto Northern. They concluded the bus was traveling between 54 and 62 miles an hour after making an estimate of an average 58 mph with a 4 mph margin of error on each side. Accetta said this was an early report and the video would be re-examined.
Asked at the news conference about whether driver fatigue or drugs were a factor, Accetta said there was no indication of either in the preliminary stages of the investigation.
The NYPD released the names of the three killed in the devastating crash: the operator of the tour bus, Raymond Mong, 49, of College Point; Gregory Liljefors, 61, of Flushing; and Henry Wdowiak, 68, of Flushing.
Liljefors was was on his way home on the MTA Q20 bus from an overnight shift as a security guard.
“He was coming home from work, and all I heard was that he was in an accident and he died,” said Audris Liljefors, Gregory’s wife. “He was a great person inside and out, wonderful husband.”
The couple had been married for 27 years.
Wdowiak was walking to the No. 7 train, on his way to work for a building management company, when he was struck. He had recently decided he would skip the bus in favor of a healthier lifestyle. His nephew Mariusz Trochmczyk, 36, remembered his uncle who married into the family after migrating to the United States two decades ago. He had a career as a pilot in the Polish military before his retirement and marriage to Halina Kurpiewska, whose family he joined with enthusiasm.
“We liked to spend time together. He had a knowledge of many things. We liked to talk and we liked to argue about the situation in Poland and all over the world,” Trochmczyk said, recalling his uncle as a tall and good-looking man for his age. “He was full of life.”
Wdowiak visited his Poland two months earlier, only to find out upon landing that his brother had died. Wdowiak and his wife were planning a move to California when the tragedy occurred on Monday.
Wdowiak’s funeral will be in Greenpoint before he is cremated and taken back to Poland by his daughter, Katarzyna, who still lives there.
The NYPD was towing the wreckage of the Q20 bus from the spot wher it came to rest on the sidewalk of the southeast corner of the intersection around 11 a.m. on Monday, just after Mayor Bill de Blasio spoke alongside MTA Chairman Joe Lhota.
With a “Northern Blvd” street sign splintering its way through twisted metal and a window, the bus came free from the rubble with a loud crunch as a crowd packed the sidewalks with cell phone cameras capturing the scene.
Dahlia Carrier Group has had seven traffic violations, according to a report from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, and at least one fatal accident prior to September 2015. Another wreck Dahlia was involved in took place in 2016, when a bus carrying people to a casino in Connecticut went off the road and hit a steel guardrail in the middle of a snowstorm. A total of 36 passengers were injured.
City Councilman Peter Koo (D-Flushing) said the safety of the downtown corridor was a concern of his because of speed and the number of pedestrians who walk in the area. He recalled the death of a pedestrian a number of years back at the intersection just east of Main Street on Northern and hoped the DOT would launch an investigation to improve conditions.
Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall