CHESTERFIELD TOWNSHIP, N.J. — An investigation is underway into a fatal crash that occurred here on Thursday morning involving a school bus and a dump truck.
According to the Chesterfield Township Police Department, the school bus, which was carrying 25 students in kindergarten through sixth grade, was en route to Chesterfield Elementary School when the dump truck struck the driver’s side rear of the bus at an intersection.
The impact of the crash then caused the bus to strike a pole. One student was killed in the accident — an 11-year-old girl who was the daughter of a New Jersey state trooper — and 17 students sustained injuries.
The children were transported to hospitals for treatment of their injuries. Police later said that three of the children were in critical condition, and the condition of two other children was unknown.
The driver of the dump truck was Michael Caporale, 38, and the driver of the school bus was 66-year-old John Tieman. No charges have been filed on either driver at this point.
Officials said that a full forensic exam of all evidence, as well as numerous interviews and technical examinations will be conducted as the investigation into the crash continues. The process is expected to take several weeks to complete.
The Chesterfield Township Police Department said it will be the primary agency investigating the accident, with assistance from the New Jersey State Police (NJSP) Fatal Accident Investigation Unit, the NJSP Troop C Criminal Investigations Office and the Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office. The NJSP Commercial Vehicle Inspection Unit will assist in the inspection of the vehicles involved.
Chesterfield Township School District Superintendent Ellen McHenry issued a letter to parents on Thursday following the accident.
“Our entire school family is sadly grieving the loss of one of our students as a result of the accident,” McHenry said. “We are continuing to monitor the conditions of those students who were injured in the accident at this time.”
She went on to say that district officials did not inform students of the fatality because they recognize that this may be the first time the students may have experienced the loss of a friend or family member, and they felt that it was a conversation that many parents would prefer to have privately with their children in their homes.
“We do stand ready to offer counseling support as necessary for all of our students in the coming days,” McHenry said. “Additional counselors from other schools within the district and the county have offered their services to assist the Chesterfield Elementary School family for as long as it is needed.”
Although school was not in session on Friday, the district planned to open its facilities for community counseling for several hours. Members of the Burlington County School Crisis Response Team and the Burlington County Traumatic Loss Coalition, as well as the district’s faculty, were to be on hand to provide support.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie also addressed the accident on Thursday.
"We are awaiting further details, but we are deeply concerned for the students on the bus and their families and can only imagine what they’ve been dealing with in the immediate aftermath of the crash,” Christie said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone involved, especially those who have been injured.”
Finally, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) sent a team of investigators to Chesterfield on Thursday to investigate the crash. The team "will examine any student passenger protection issues associated with this crash," officials said.
Updates: On Friday afternoon, the NTSB held a news conference to discuss its investigation into the accident, The Associated Press (AP) reports.
Students said seat belts were being worn when the dump truck struck the school bus, but Peter Kotowski, the NTSB’s chief investigator for the accident, said that investigators need to determine if all students were indeed buckled up, and the role — if any — the seat belts played.
In addition, Kotowski said NTSB crews would likely remain in the area for about a week to complete this phase of the investigation, but he noted that the overall probe could take anywhere from 12 to 16 months to complete, according to AP.
Also, on Tuesday, Chesterfield Township School District released new information on the conditions of several of the children who were injured in the accident.
Natalie and Sophie Tezsla remain hospitalized. (Their sister, Isabelle, was the student who stustained fatal injuries in the crash.) While Natalie's condition has been upgraded to stable, Sophie's and fellow student Jonathan Zdybel's conditions are unchanged, and they are listed in critical condition.
The school district said that it will continue to offer couseling support this week for those in need.