How a Commuter Thermos May Have Caused a Deadly Accident, Speeding the Vehicle Up and Preventing Braking  

A few years ago, when I was still in NYC, there was a high-speed bus crash that was all over the local news. A charter bus blew through a red light at an absurd 60 miles per hour in a 30 MPH zone. This is the footage:

Three people died, including the driver of the charter bus, one Raymond Mong. Mong was a former MTA bus driver who, it was then reported, was fired by the MTA a couple of years earlier, when it emerged that he had a DUI on his record. So I assumed he was drunk during this crash–why else would you accelerate a bus up to 60 miles per hour and blow the light like that?

Now, however, the NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) has concluded an investigation of the crash, examining data that has given them both the bus’ speed prior to the crash and an audio recording from inside the cabin, and they have an alternate theory as to what happened. “Investigators found a Thermos near the charter bus’s pedals at the scene,” the Daily News reports, “and Mong’s wife said her husband had brought a Thermos to work that day.”

Here’s why that’s significant:

The charter bus — operated by Dahlia Group Inc. — was traveling 30 mph on Northern Blvd. when according to an audio recording, a “metal rattling noise” was heard on the bus, said the National Transportation Safety Board report.

After the rattling began, the bus picked up speed.

The bus driver, Raymond Mong, 49, uttered a “one-word remark” two times and swerved to avoid stopped cars before the bus entered the intersection, the report said.

“The Thermos could potentially explain the metal rattling heard on the audio recording,” the NTSB report said.

Investigators re-enacting the crash discovered that a thermos of that size, if dropped around the pedals, could have wedged the gas pedal downwards, while making it impossible to apply the brakes:

It’s not clear how they obtained the following data, but the NTSB report states that Mong was “awake and alert at the time of the crash” and alcohol is not mentioned. So their thermos theory seems pretty plausible.

I have a metal water bottle that I always drive with. Because of my driving position it’s likely it would fall into my lap if I dropped it, but it’s not difficult to imagine it winding up in the footwell, where I can easily see it getting wedged behind the brake pedal. I’m going to be a hell of a lot more careful with that bottle.