Community marks 1 year since deadly school bus crash on I-80

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PARAMUS -

A Bergen County community is marking the one-year anniversary of a deadly school bus crash involving a group of Paramus children.

A group of fifth-graders from East Brook Middle School were on their way to a field trip when their bus was struck by a dump truck on Interstate 80 in Mount Olive. The bus overturned, killing a student and teacher and injuring 40 others.

Then-11-year-old Peter Caminiti was injured in the crash that day.

“I blacked out. I passed out and I woke up with just rubble. I thought it was just a nightmare,” he says. “I thought it was fake…I woke up hanging from the ceiling.”

But the crash was all too real. The boy suffered a major concussion and hearing loss.

“They identified a break in his connecting between the brainstem and his inner ear and he had no hearing in that ear at first,” says Peter’s father, Peter Caminiti Jr. “He asked the first responder when the first responder first looked at him in the ambulance if he was going to die. Which is a really difficult thing to hear as a dad.”

RELATED: Memorial service marks 1 year since fatal bus accident in Mt. Olive 
RELATED: Firefighter reflects on 1 year since deadly school bus crash 

Teacher Jennifer Williamson-Kennedy and 10-year-old Miranda Vargas were killed in the crash.

Officials say that the school bus driver attempted to make an illegal U-turn on the highway because he made a wrong turn on the way to the field trip. It was during this turn that a dump truck struck the bus.

MORE: Dad of girl killed in I-80 bus crash teams with Gottheimer in push for bus safety 

Driver Hudy Muldrow Sr. faces vehicular homicide charges. He previously had 14 driver’s license violations on his record, according to the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission.

The crash devastated the community and there were soon calls for increased school bus safety.

Peter Caminiti testified before state legislators about the need for three-point seatbelts on school buses and was on hand when Gov. Phil Murphy signed the legislation into law.

The family of Miranda Vargas is working with Rep. Josh Gottheimer to get a similar law passed on the federal level. The congressman dropped off “Miranda’s Law” in Washington this week. It was originally proposed last year following the crash, but failed to advance in the House.

Other legislation that was passed in New Jersey in the wake of the accident include biannual safety training and stricter qualifications for school bus drivers.

The families affected by the crash say that although it is tragic, they are proud of how the community came together.

“I made a comment to one of the parents that these kids are bonded together forever and the mom turned to me and said, ‘So are the parents,’ and it's true,” says Peter Caminiti Jr.

More than two dozen bus drivers raised money to create a memorial in Turkey Brook Park in Mount Olive to honor the victims. They bought a bench bearing the names of the victims who died, along with a butterfly and the words “Paramus Strong.”

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