Three people died and 16 others were hurt when a private tour bus from a company with a history of problems ran a red light, smashed into an MTA bus and careened into a row of Queens storefronts, sparking a fire.
The Q20 bus was making a right turn on Northern Boulevard from Main Street shortly before 6:30 a.m. when the bus, which read Dahlia on the back, struck it as it was traveling east on Northern Boulevard, police said at a news conference.
Multiple angles from surveillance video obtained by News 4 show the Dahlia bus running a red light, then smashing into the back of the MTA bus before careening into a nearby building. When investigators picked up the speedometer from the tour bus at the scene, it was frozen at 60 mph, sources said.
A 68-year-old pedestrian pinned under the bus on the sidewalk, Henry Wdowiak, died at the scene, authorities said. Raymond Mong, the charter bus driver and a former MTA bus driver fired by the agency after a 2015 DUI arrest, and a passenger on board the MTA bus, 55-year-old Gregory Liljefors, died at the hospital, according to the police.
Wdowiak's stepson, Marcin Kurpiewski, told News 4 that the 68-year-old was planning to leave for a cruise to celebrate his 10th wedding anniversary with Kurpiewski's mother.
She thinks he's still coming back," Kurpiewski said. "It didn't really sink in. Maybe tomorrow when she picks up the body."
He choked up as he said his stepfather was a "very great guy."
The driver of the MTA bus is hospitalized with non-critical injuries, officials said. Five other people weree taken to the hospital. There were 15 people on the bus at the time.
Though the frozen speedometer isn't an indication of how fast the bus was going when it hit the MTA bus, it's clear from the surveillance video the tour bus was going well over the 25 mph limit in the area.
"These buses spun around," MTA Chairman Joe Lhota said at the news conference. "That requires an enormous amount of speed."
A National Transportation Safety Board team arrived Monday afternoon to investigate the deadly crash. A spokesman for the independent federal agency, which investigates and determines the causes of transportation accidents across the U.S., said the case is of interest to them because it involved two buses. The agency is expected to hold a news briefing Wednesday afternoon.
"It's just shocking to see the scene over there," Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a news briefing near the crash site Monday. "It's hard to compare it to anything I've ever seen, the sheer destruction."
He added, "One of those who was lost was simply walking down the sidewalk... and out of nowhere this happens."
Video from the scene showed dozens of first responders swarming the two buses; passengers were pulled from the wreckage and lifted down on stretchers into an ocean of firefighters.
Sources say the MTA driver pried open the doors of his bus and got his passengers off. The Q20, which runs from Jamaica to College Point, was about midpoint on the route.
Shabir Farhad was on his way to work at Kennedy Fried Chicken, where he's a manager, when he witnessed the tour bus barreling into the building.
"I'm here day and night. Day and night. It's shocking. Thank God none of us was there," he said. "It's just a shocking moment -- a feeling like you can't express right now."
Heavy traffic delays were expected in the area as authorities canvassed the scene. Investigators were also assessing the building the bus crashed into in order to determine whether it was safe for people to be in and around. De Blasio said the impact on the building was "very, very substantial."
The mayor says authorities will work through the morning and afternoon to clear the area and get things back to normal as soon as possible.
The MTA is also investigating.
"We want to make sure we understand what happened and prevent this from ever happening again," said Lhota, who appeared alongside the mayor at the news briefing Monday.
According to federal records, Dahlia drivers have been cited for several safety violations, including failing to obey a traffic signals, speeding and unlawful parking in the roadway in the last year.
Sources also told News 4 New York that the charter bus driver used to be an MTA bus driver, but had been fired after a drunken driving hit-and-run arrest in East Haven, Connecticut, in 2015.
One of the company's buses was also involved in a February 2016 crash that left one person dead and 36 others. The bus was en route from Manhattan to the Mohegan Sun casino in eastern Connecticut when it overturned on a snow-covered Interstate 95 east of New Haven.
A person answering the phone at the company declined to comment; there was no immediate response to an emailed request seeking comment.