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Bus crash blamed on contractor City says pile of gravel put in roadway as part of sidewalk project caused school bus to ram house on West Woodside Avenue in South Buffalo, injuring two children

By midafternoon Thursday, the school bus that rammed into a South Buffalo house was hauled away, the 1 1/2 -story wood-frame was boarded up, and police and other emergency workers had left the scene.

Still on West Woodside Avenue was the sidewalk contractor, Master's Edge. City Hall is holding the concrete company responsible for the early-morning accident that sent two schoolchildren to the hospital with minor injuries but remarkably didn't injure anyone else -- not the bus driver, not the three occupants inside the home and not the other 17 children on the bus.

Also still on the street was an almost 5-foot-high pile of stone that is the focus of the accident and resulting investigation. Around the pile were several tall yellow emergency cones.

City Hall says Master's Edge's city contract "prohibits dumping or storing gravel on a city right of way.

"The contractor is therefore responsible for any damages incurred as a result of this accident," Michael DeGeorge, a spokesman for Mayor Byron W. Brown, said in a statement emailed to The Buffalo News on Thursday afternoon.

Master's Edge owner Carmelo Sciascia declined to comment when told of the city's statement holding his company responsible for the accident.

Earlier in the day, Sciascia said he did not know if his city contract permitted him to pile stone on the side of the road. But Sciascia said he didn't do anything out of the ordinary when he put the pile on the side of West Woodside Avenue at about 7:30 a.m. Thursday. Sciascia said he's been in business for 25 years and working for the city for about 15. A pile of stone is typically put on the side of the road, he said, and workers draw from it during the day to use as a base layer when installing new sidewalks.

A similar but smaller pile was also placed on the edge of the road Wednesday, and there were no problems, he said.

There's plenty of room for cars to get by, he said.

But for whatever reason, the First Student bus driver drove into the pile at about 7:54 a.m. Thursday and then crashed into a nearby house at 120 W. Woodside.

There were 19 children in the bus, en route to Lorraine Academy, according to a First Student bus company spokeswoman. Two children were taken to Women & Children's Hospital for observation, but authorities said their injuries were not serious. The other children were put on a different bus and taken to their school, which serves students up to the eighth grade.

The bus driver was not injured, nor were the three occupants of the house. Authorities did not release their names, but neighbors said a woman, her son and her son's girlfriend were in the house at the time of the accident.

Residents on West Woodside speculated that the bus driver may have been blinded by the morning sun. Others, including Sciascia, suggested she may have been speeding.

"Common sense," Sciascia said. "She wasn't going 10 miles an hour. It takes speed to get a bus into a house."

First Student spokeswoman Maureen Richmond said the bus driver, in her 50s, was not speeding. The school bus is equipped with a GPS that monitors where a bus is and how fast it is going, Richmond said.

"There's no evidence that suggests she was speeding," Richmond said. "She had just made a pickup. There was a pile of gravel in the roadway, which caused the driver to veer off the road and strike the residence."

Richmond declined to identify the bus driver but said she has been with the bus company since 1995 and had a clean driving record. "She's been a great employee for us," she said.

West Woodside is part of the driver's normal route, Richmond said.

Master's Edge is working under a $1.1 million sidewalk construction contract the city awarded last June.

Sciascia said Thursday that he has completed about one-fourth of the work required by the contract, which is for sidewalk reconstruction throughout the city. He said he has about two or three more months worth of work left on the contract.

City officials did not respond when asked if the remainder of Sciascia's contract will be affected by Thursday's accident.

The accident brought West Woodside residents out of their homes, first to help when the accident occurred, then to watch as the day unfolded.

One big topic among neighbors was whether Master's Edge had placed emergency cones around the stone pile prior to the accident.

Sciascia insisted that he placed cones at the same time he put the pile there. Other cones lining half the street were also posted all day Thursday, as well as Wednesday, he said.

A couple of West Woodside residents agreed with Sciascia that the cones were up all day, but others didn't.

"They put the cones up after the accident," said James Rybczynski, who lives across the street from 120 W. Woodside. "I was out here. The kids were out of the bus. There were no cones."

"There were no signs or cones. They put them up after the accident," agreed Paula Rigby, who said she contacted the school bus company earlier Thursday morning to suggest that the bus might not be able to get through the street because of the ongoing sidewalk reconstruction work. The bus company responded that the driver would contact the company if there was going to be a problem, Rigby said.

Buffalo police and First Student said they are continuing to investigate the accident.