Deadly Paramus bus crash video: Driver turned left in front of dump truck
State officials on Friday released video that shows the deadly school bus crash that killed an 10-year-old student and a teacher and injured dozens more in May.
The video confirms what Department of Transportation employees had told New Jersey 101.5 and what Morris County prosecutors had charged: that the 77-year-old school bus driver, who had missed a Route 206 turn for a field trip to Waterloo Village, cut perpendicularly across several lanes of traffic on Route 80, seemingly to take an emergency exit across the grassy median dividing the highway.
The video, taken with a Department of Transportation camera perched on an overpass, was released after the Gannett newspaper chain in New Jersey sued the state for access under the state's Open Public Records Act.
Authorities had denied requests by media — including New Jersey 101.5 — to access the video, citing concerns for victims' privacy and the integrity of the investigation.
The footage shared by the news organizations on Friday does not show the carnage of the crash. The video is not graphic, unlike the news photographs that came from the scene.
The school bus driver, Hudy Muldrow Sr., was charged with two counts of second-degree vehicular homicide, one for each of the dead victims: Jennifer Williamson, 51, and student Miranda Vargas. He faces further criminal charges for the dozens of other injured fifth-grade students and adults.
Muldrow, whose son told the press that his father denied trying to make an illegal U-turn, has been released from jail pending his trial, which has not been scheduled.
The dump truck driver was not charged with any crime.
The deadly crash resulted in changes to state law. In August, Gov. Phil Murphy signed a law requiring that all new school buses be equipped with three-point seat belts that secure passengers' torsos as well as their laps.
Lawmakers also have considered requiring testing for older bus drivers.
Police say Muldrow, after missing the exit for Waterloo Village, drove his bus — full students and chaperones from East Brook Middle School in Paramus — across the interstate in Mount Olive after making a 90-degree turn.
The video shows the bus entering the interstate from the Route 206 ramp and then crossing into the center lane where the dump truck was traveling just as the truck approaches.
In a note accompanying NorthJersey.com's story, editors defended suing for and releasing the video in order "to protect the public’s right to know and defend the First Amendment," as well as to "answer lingering questions about how a field trip by a Paramus middle school turned deadly."
"These are not easy decisions to make and we don’t take them lightly. However, the public’s right to know how an accident occurred - one involving public employees and public school children on a public road - outweighed other concerns regarding the publication of this video."
When State Police denied New Jersey 101.5's request for the video, they included a letter from the Vargas family's attorney, David Fried, saying it would be "cruel and unusual" for the family to see video "depicting the horrific events of that day."
"The Vargas family is also concerned that the release of this material will also cause undue anguish for all of the children who were on the involved bus, as well as their daughter Madison, who was on one of the other buses that day," the letter said.
Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-359-5348 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.