A tragic school bus accident in Congers 40-years ago this Saturday—one that claimed the lives of five students—made headlines around the country.
Wire services were swift to report the story, and papers around the nation, from The Palm Beach Post to the Milwaukee Sentinel, printed the tragic news.
The papers' descriptions were straightforward, but still enough to chill any parent with the broadsheet in their hands.
"A Penn Central freight train, its horn blowing frantically, yesterday ripped a school bus in half at an unguarded crossing, killing three high school students and injuring 46," wrote one Sentinel Wire Service reporter.
The news was flanked by dispatches on the Cold War and violent unrest in Northern Ireland.
When the train slammed into the school bus at 7:55 a.m. that morning it was traveling about 25 miles-per-hour, reporters said—and "dragged part of the bus 1,000 meters, spilling injured children besides the tracks."
Volunteers firefighters were quick to scene, clearing debris to free trapped children. But for some, it was too late—three boys, all from Valley Cottage, lost their lives at the scene: Richard Macaylo, 18, James McGuinness, 17, and Robert Mauterer, 14.
Thomas Grosse, 14, and Stephen Ward, 16, died shortly after the accident.
The injured children were treated at , and one reporter at the scene noted "anguished mothers, some still clad in bathrobes, crowded the hospital lobby seeking information on their children."
The accident was followed with outcry and dismay; anger toward the driver and disbelief that the train tracks had no warning gates or lights. Officials later recreated the accident with an empty bus to learn move about what went wrong.
The driver, Joseph Larkin, was charged with criminally negligent homicide.
Leann Irvin, a current trustee on Nyack Schools' board of education, recalls the incident—her brother and sister were students at Nyack High School at the time.
"My thoughts will be with the school district [on the anniversary]," she said at Tuesday evening's board meeting.
Nyack High School will pay tribute to the deceased this coming Monday, March 26. Students, faculty and community members are set to gather at the old high school at 7:55 a.m.—the time of the accident—where a bronze plaque memorializes the victims.
"Dr. Ira Oustatcher, now principal of Pomona Middle School, former principal of Nyack High School and faculty member there at the time of the accident, will say a few words, as will superintendent of School Dr. James Montesano," said Gail Fleur, Nyack High School's communications director.
The Clarkstown Town Board observed a moment of silence at the end of its Tuesday meeting in memory of the accident. Supervisor Alex Gromack noted the tragedy led to many new safety laws for seat belts, traffic control and railroads.
"Emergency response also changed as a result of this horrific accident," he said.