Authorities in northern New Jersey began a crackdown on commuter bus companies Thursday, two days after an out-of-control bus knocked over a light pole, killing a little girl in a stroller.
Recordings of 911 calls from Tuesday's crash revealed witnesses begging for an ambulance during the anguishing minutes after 48-year-old Idowu Daramola struck the pole while allegedly using his cellphone and speeding.
Hudson County Sheriff Frank X. Schillari said he ordered a "massive crackdown" on the buses, telling deputies to conduct random stops to ensure the operators have proper insurance and the drivers' licenses are valid. Thursday afternoon, a sheriff's office spokesman said officers pulled over a jitney bus after it ran a red light and found the driver had a suspended license.
Schillari said officers will also sit on major thoroughfares and watch to ensure bus drivers obey traffic laws and are not using cellphones. The buses are operated by private companies and ferry commuters from the heavily congested suburbs of northern New Jersey into New York City.
There have been cases where insurance papers and licenses have been fraudulent, Schillari said. He said the bus companies need to conduct better checks of their drivers.
Eight-month-old Angelie Paredes was killed and seven others injured when Daramola veered off a West New York street, hitting the pole that fell on the stroller then a tree, another pole and a parked car that then struck three other vehicles.
Daramola made an initial court appearance Thursday to face charges of death by auto, reckless driving and using a cellphone while operating a vehicle but did not enter a plea. He was being held on $250,000 bail.
Daramola said he has been unable to obtain a lawyer because the jail phone could not make outgoing calls.
Daramola has been charged with a number of traffic infractions over the past few years, including speeding, improperly letting off passengers, failure to stop at a stop sign and running a red light.
Schillari said an arrest warrant was issued in February 2012 after Daramola failed to appear in court on one of the charges. Two additional warrants were issued this year after Daramola again failed to appear in court.
Schillari said Daramola, who lives in Queens, "slipped through the system," and it may have happened because Daramola lives and has a valid driver's license in New York.
"This tragedy could have been averted," Schillari said. "I think it's ludicrous that he was still driving. But we're going to try to prevent such accidents in Hudson County from here on in."
Daramola was employed by Sphinx Transportation, which Schillari said was recently sold to Boulevard Transportation of Ridgefield, N.J. No one at the company could be immediately reached for comment.
In 911 calls obtained by the Star-Ledger of Newark (https://bit.ly/11xSHBi), horrified callers begged for an ambulance after the pole fell on the stroller. One woman is heard saying: "The ambulance just got there. It took so long."
One man said at least five or six minutes elapsed and there was no doctor or ambulance. Another said about 10 minutes had elapsed.
A spokesman for the Hudson County Sheriff's Office told the newspaper an ambulance responded within nine minutes.