The driver who plowed his tour bus into a New York City bus Monday morning, killing him and two other people, was fired as a Metropolitan Transportation Authority driver after he was arrested for driving under the influence in 2015, the MTA said.
The Q20 bus was attempting to turn onto a street in Flushing, Queens, about 6:15 a.m. when the Dahlia tour bus came speeding down the road, ramming into the vehicle and a nearby Kennedy Fried Chicken restaurant. The Dahlia bus driver, Raymond Mong, was named as one of the dead.
The 49-year-old driver was arrested in New Haven, Conn., in 2015 after he was caught allegedly driving under the influence and leaving the scene of a crash that injured three people, FOX5 NY reported. Mong was working for the MTA at the time, and the company fired him after the incident. Sometime later, Mong was hired to drive the Dahlia bus.
A man identified only as “David,” a friend of Mong for 20 years, told The New York Daily News the driver drank socially, but would not drive if he wasn’t sober.
“Among my friends, no one says any bad word about him. He’s a family person. If he don’t work, he never go out. He never step out,” David told the newspaper, adding he didn’t believe the crash was his friend’s fault.
The Dahlia Group Inc., a tour and travel company based in Flushing, also has a history of violations before Monday’s deadly crash. A bus owned by the company crashed in February 2016 when the vehicle overturned on Interstate-95 in Madison, east of New Haven, according to Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration records. One person died and 36 people were injured in that incident.
The company’s Yelp reviews are filled with customer complaints – including those asserting drivers constantly speed and drive dangerously.
“NO rating at all. My husband and I were traveling to work this morning and was ran off I 85 in Durham, NC by bus 1778 from this company,” one January 2017 review stated.
“GET DAHLIA BUS COMPANY OFF THE ROADS NOW!!! This is a tragedy waiting to happen if it hasn't already,” another person wrote in March 2017. “Not only did [the driver] flip us the finger, he sped faster weaving in and out of traffic. We fear for everyone's safety. It looked like there were some people in the bus at least in the front from where I could see.”
A reviewer wrote in October 2010: “If you think traveling 25 miles over the speed limit, weaving in and out of traffic, jockeying for position, and cutting off other vehicles is your idea of a safe and enjoyable ride, then hop on board one of their buses. Personally I would never ride in any of them. Even if they were the last bus company on earth. I value my life too much.”
The company's drivers have been cited several times during the past 12 months for safety violations, including failing to obey a traffic control device, speeding and unlawful parking in the roadway. Federal regulators flagged the company on a public website, noting it had more infractions than similarly sized companies.
The speedometer from Monday’s crash was stuck at 60 mph – more than twice the speed limit in the area of the crash. Surveillance video from the scene showed the MTA bus slowly making a turn before the tour bus rocketed down the street and into the back of the bus. The crash ignited a fire in the Kennedy chicken restaurant, but it was quickly extinguished.
The two other people killed were Gregory Liljefors, 55, and Henry Wdowiak, 68, police said. Liljefors was a passenger on the MTA bus when the collision happened.
“He was a good man. He was a good husband for 27 years. He was a good father to his two stepsons,” wife Audris Liljefors told the New York Post. “He was coming home on the bus this morning after working all night.”
Wdowiak, a former military pilot and Polish immigrant who came to the U.S. in 1993, was walking in the street when he was pinned by one of the buses. Another 16 people were injured. Mike Ramos, a construction superintendent who witnessed the crash, told the New York Daily News “it was just chaos.”
“One guy had his head split open,” Ramos said. “A lady was pinned under debris there, in front of the bus. There was a lot of people hurt, a lot of people hurt. It was crazy.”