bus crash shatters New York City's Chinese community
The New York Times
Sunday 13 March 2011
Chinese Community Devastated After Bus Crash
By KIRK SEMPLE
Published: March 13, 2011
Michael Appleton for The New York Times
Joseph Hsu/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
The crash had a devastating effect on members of the city’s Chinese population; if they did not know someone on the bus, they feared that they did.
On Sunday, people visited two Bronx hospitals where the injured were taken and went to the morgue to identify the dead. Others crowded the Fifth Precinct station house in Chinatown seeking information.
A popular dry cleaning store on Madison Street in Chinatown failed to open on Saturday, and then again on Sunday, leaving customers and neighbors to wonder whether its owner was among the victims.
Complicating matters, some of the victims — injured and dead alike — still had not been identified by late Sunday, leaving city officials to wonder whether their relatives and friends were hesitating to step forward for fear of revealing their illegal immigration status, and prompting Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg to issue a reassuring appeal.
“You should not worry about your documentation or anything like that,” Mr. Bloomberg said after visiting some survivors at Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx.
“The police don’t ask that, but really do need help finding out who some of these people are.”
Law enforcement officials said they were still investigating the cause of the crash. The driver of the bus told investigators that he had lost control after a passing tractor-trailer on Interstate 95 clipped the bus. But passengers told the authorities that the driver had swerved several times before the bus toppled on its side, straying from the traffic lane and running over rumble strips at the highway’s shoulder.
The bus skidded about 500 feet, first along a guardrail, before violently plowing into a support pole of a large highway sign. The pole sliced through the bus, shearing it in half and turning the vehicle into a bloody tableau of twisted metal and mangled bodies.
The driver, Ophadell Williams, was in stable condition at St. Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx on Sunday, a hospital spokesman said. Two passengers were in serious condition there.
As investigators sought evidence of culpability, the Chinese population in New York was cast into a state of confusion and mourning.
Sai Ling, 57, lost her parents in the crash. Sitting in her apartment on the 31st floor of Confucius Plaza, an apartment complex in Chinatown, she frequently broke down i
n tears as she talked about her parents, both Chinese immigrants.
Her father, Kam Ng, 81, a retired restaurant cook, regularly visited Mohegan Sun, Ms. Ling said. He would often go on his gambling trips with friends; his wife, Yuk Ng, 79, a retired garment factory worker, preferred to stay at their home on Long Island and play mah-jongg.
But in recent weeks, Ms. Ng, who had sunk into a deep sadness after the death of her sister two months ago, had been regularly accompanying her husband on his casino jaunts.
“She was nice to everybody; he was very quiet, very traditional,” Ms. Ling said. “They were so sweet.”
As Ms. Ling spoke, the family’s community rallied around. A steady stream of neighbors and friends arrived with food, and the phone rang frequently.
“She went, played at the casino, and died,” Ms. Ling said. “I think she’s happy. She took him with her; they went together.”
At Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx, six passengers were still in very critical condition, four of them on breathing equipment, hospital officials said. The patients were suffering a range of injuries, including head wounds, multiple bone fractures and even multiple amputations.
One patient, a 50-year-old man who had a breathing tube down his throat and was unable to speak, still remained unidentified on Sunday evening, officials said.
Among the dead in the crash on Saturday was another elderly couple: Thomas and Maylin Wong, who every Friday night left their modest fourth-floor apartment on Mott Street in Chinatown and walked two blocks to board the bus to Mohegan Sun, said Mokit Lee, 42, a niece of Ms. Wong. Mr. Wong was a retired waiter, his wife a retired factory worker in the garment district.
“There wasn’t much else for them to do around here, so this was their entertainment,” Ms. Lee said, standing outside the station house in Chinatown, where she stopped on Sunday, looking for information on her relatives. “They weren’t big gamblers — just chump change — but they enjoyed it.”
She and neighbors said the Wongs had lived most of their lives on Mott Street, raised two children and always took care of children in the extended family, including several grandchildren.
“My aunt had a bad knee, and we told her to stop going, but she wouldn’t leave her husband’s side,” she said. She added, her voice somber: “Now she’ll never leave his side anymore.”
The accident will probably prompt renewed government scrutiny of the scores of short- and long-haul discount bus companies that operate out of Chinatown. The bus involved in the crash was owned by World Wide Tours, based in Gowanus, Brooklyn. The accident was the company’s fourth recorded crash in as many years, records show.
Mr. Bloomberg said it was “a constant battle” for regulators to ensure that discount bus companies obey safety standards.
But in spite of the crash on Saturday, and the longstanding, mixed reputations of some of Chinatown’s bus companies, the buses continued to depart on Sunday with many seats occupied.
Even one of the survivors of the crash was so undaunted by the experience that he hopped another bus to Mohegan Sun on Sunday.
Bernardo Garcia, 50, said he usually made the trip several times a week and was not going to let the accident stop him.
Another survivor, Chung H. Ninh, 59, an unemployed chef, had been planning to take the same bus route and head back to Mohegan Sun. But at dusk, he said he felt tired and would postpone the trip until another day.
“I’m not scared to go back,” he said in an interview. Except for some scratches on his hand, there was little evidence that he had just survived a bus crash. “I used to practice kung fu, and that’s why I’m so strong.”
Anyway, he added, he lost $200 on Friday night and was down to his last $600. He wanted to win his money back.