The school bus, which wasn't carrying children, toppled onto a power supply station in front of an apartment complex. The commuter bus went off the road and traveled another 60 yards before hitting a telephone pole and smashing into a tree.
At least 17 people on the commuter bus were injured, including the driver. The driver of the 24-seat school bus and a school aide suffered minor injuries. Police said the two climbed out of a roof hatch.
When the accident occurred shortly after 8 a.m., the school bus was on its way to pick up children at the apartment complex, which sits yards off Route 9, a heavily traveled highway that serves New Jersey's northern shore region. The road was closed for most of the morning, creating a massive traffic backup.
The 55-seat Academy bus was carrying 30 to 35 people, Old Bridge Township Police Capt. Robert Weiss said, and was driving on the right shoulder in a lane reserved for commuter buses.
Police were reviewing a video captured by a camera aboard the Academy bus to help determine what happened, but Weiss said it appeared the collision occurred "during a lane change of some sort."
The commuter bus driver, Daniel Jean-Pierre, a resident of Barnegat, was hired by Academy in May and has a clean driving record, company spokesman Joe Orlando said. He was seriously injured when his legs were pinned in the bus after it hit the tree, and he was airlifted to a New Brunswick hospital where he underwent surgery Thursday, Orlando said.
A female passenger on the Academy bus also suffered serious injuries and was airlifted to a hospital. Her condition was not immediately known.
Some passengers described the chaotic aftermath of the crash.
Passenger John Sherman told New York television station WABC-TV he suffered cuts and bruises and said "a lot of people were messed up." Another passenger told News 12 New Jersey that people were crying out and moaning after the crash.
Chet Singh, a resident of the apartment complex, said he heard a loud boom and shattering noise from his second-floor apartment and ran outside with other residents.
"Everybody started running out toward the street," he said. "I saw a huge bus with a tree sticking out of the front. People were screaming. They couldn't get out of the bus. Then I saw the school bus and ran over there but I saw there were no children in it."
Passengers on the Academy bus opened emergency windows to escape, and rescue teams were able to pry open the front door. The tree caved in the front of the bus, shattering its windshield, and a large branch protruded from the vehicle's roof.
The school bus windshield also was smashed, as were several windows on its left side. Power to the apartment complex was initially cut off as a precaution and later restored, police said. A sewage pumping system located near the power supply station was knocked out, and crews were working to restore it Thursday afternoon.
By noon, workers had lifted the bus off the power station using a crane and loaded it onto a tow truck.
The accident occurred one day after a high-speed commuter ferry from New Jersey crashed into a dock in Manhattan, injuring dozens.
The Academy bus had made most of its stops en route from Lakewood to Wall Street in Manhattan, with just a few stops left on the run, Orlando said.