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Bus to casino flips, 2 die

Two people were killed and 28 were injured when a speeding bus ferrying gamblers from Chinatown to Atlantic City flipped over on the snow-slicked Garden State Parkway yesterday, officials said.

Witnesses reported that the bus driver, Guang Ming Li, was weaving in and out of traffic just before the crash - and one driver called 911 to say the coach was traveling too fast.

"It looks like he was trying to get somewhere in a hurry, going into and out of traffic inappropriately," said Timothy McDonough, executive director of the New Jersey Highway Authority.

Li, 38, was the only person on the bus not injured.

Although it was snowing in New Jersey, McDonough said the storm didn't cause the accident - the latest in a string of crashes involving casino-bound buses.

"I was just there, and the road was wet but completely clear of snow and ice. Cars were going pretty much at the speed limit," he said.

The bus, operated by Flushing-based Dahlia Travel & Tours, picked up 30 passengers in Chinatown about 9:30 a.m. and headed for the Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort, police said.

Near the town of Stafford, the bus suddenly careened off the highway and flipped on its side. Some passengers crawled out through a roof hatch.

The two passengers who died were not identified because their families hadn't been notified. One had been thrown through a window and pinned under the bus, cops said.

Because bad weather kept helicopters grounded, it took about an hour to rescue all the passengers and take them to four nearby hospitals.

Some were in serious condition, with head injuries and broken bones, but none of the injuries was considered life-threatening, hospital officials said.

Word of the crash spread quickly through Chinatown.

"Oh my god! It's so sad. What a tragedy," said Annie Zhen, watching gamblers board and get off casino buses that stop in front of her jewelry shop on Canal St.

"This is the seventh day after the Chinese New Year. It's supposed to be happy. It's the life day."

Li, who lives in Chinatown, was being grilled by New Jersey State Police about the crash. The investigation was moving slowly because Li speaks little English, officials said.

He has a valid driver's license and one recent violation on his record - failing to obey a traffic signal in upstate Steuben County in November 2000, officials said.

Dahlia Travel, which had no comment on the accident, has a spotty inspection record, state Transportation Department spokeswoman Jennifer Post said.

In the last year, six of its 32 buses presented for inspection have flunked and been taken out of service. Records showed 10 major defects, including six problems with brakes.

Post said the bus involved in the crash was a 2002 model that had passed inspection twice, most recently in November.

Hours after the accident, busloads of people were still leaving Chinatown for Atlantic City.

"I'm not worried. There are easily a dozen buses leaving Chinatown every day," said Stanley Lui, 50, a computer programmer from Brooklyn. "It's a terrible shame, but it's happened before."


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