LAW & PUBLIC SAFETY

In aftermath of crash, school community seeks solace and privacy

BY David Cruz, Senior Correspondent |

Chaos in the aftermath of tragedy on Route 80. The school bus carrying 38 students and seven adults ripped off its axles in a crash that killed two and injured scores of others, some still critical. The scenes were still fresh in the minds of mourners who visited a memorial outside East Brook Middle School Friday. Antonia Vainieri’s sister was on the bus.

“She lost one of her really good friends and her best friend’s in the hospital and they’re all just devastated,” she said. “There’s nothing to do for them but to just text each other and, like, cry, because they were supposed to hang out last night. They were all going to go to the mall.”

Investigators were still looking into reports that the bus had tried to make a u-turn through an opening in the highway divider and questions about the truck’s safety record remain. Meanwhile, classes went on today as the community surrounding the school made it clear that they wanted their space.

Jennifer Williamson, the 51-year-old East Brook Middle School teacher who was killed in the crash along with one of the children, was remembered by a former student Friday.

“I’ve known her over the years and I visited her last year and she just seemed so optimistic. She wasn’t overbearing, either. She was relaxed and she just wanted to know if you were OK,” said Paramus High School student Nicole Deegan.

Across the borough, residents were still reaching out to one another, many outside the school today were former students. East Brook Middle School serving as a center of the community.

“I can’t even imagine. I’m still in shock. It’s like my town. It’s weird,” said East Brook Middle School alumnus Maddie Fox. “You hear about this. They’re so young. It just affects everyone.”

The memorial continued to grow throughout the day as members of the school community came and went, their grim faces revealing feelings they couldn’t bring themselves to share with anyone not directly affected by this painful blow.

Police asked us to keep our distance and, in fact, asked some of the mourners not to talk to us either. It’s clear that what the East Brook Middle School community wants most right now is privacy.