A Sunday night commute from Ithaca to New York City turned deadly when a charter bus veered off a Pennsylvania highway just after 9 p.m. and crashed into several trees, killing a recent Cornell alumna and injuring 11 other passengers.
Rebecca Blanco M.B.A. ’17, of Vacaville, Calif., was killed in the crash, authorities confirmed. Blanco, 33, had been working as a senior communications manager at Snowe, a household goods company based in New York City, since August.
“Becca was a vibrant and talented young woman we feel proud and fortunate to have had on our team,” Andres Modak, co-founder of Snowe, said in an email to The Sun. “She brought deep thoughtfulness and dedication to all that she did. She shared her contagious enthusiasm, creativity and warmth with all of us.”
The private charter bus was heading south on Interstate 380 when it “left the roadway and proceeded off the interstate into a wooded area” in Covington Township in Lackawanna County, said Trooper Robert M. Urban, a spokesperson for Pennsylvania State Police.
One passenger was airlifted and several others were taken to local hospitals, Urban said. He said later on Monday that only one passenger remained hospitalized and was listed in stable condition.
Blanco died from “multiple traumatic injuries” sustained in the crash and was pronounced dead at the scene, Timothy Rowland, the Lackawanna County coroner, told The Sun. Rowland said he believed that all 13 people on the bus, including the driver, received at least minor injuries from the crash.
Amanda Bosworth, grad, told The Sun that her roommate, also a Cornell graduate student, had been on the bus and suffered a broken neck.
“Since so many of us have relied on these bus companies … it kind of hits home to a lot of people,” Bosworth said. She said she did not want to identify her roommate, and Rowland declined to describe specific injuries or say whether other passengers were believed to be Cornell students.
The cause of the crash is under investigation. The male driver has not been identified, but Urban said the driver had been taken to a hospital to undergo a blood test, which federal regulations require after fatalities.
Reached by phone on Monday, Charlie Brundza, Big Red Bullet’s general manager, declined to answer questions and said he was directing all media requests to Pennsylvania police.
The video aired by WSYR also shows a motor carrier number on the side of the bus that is registered to Big Red Bullet LLC, according to online U.S. Department of Transportation records. Those records indicate that the company’s drivers were inspected once in the last two years and that no violations were found to put the company “out of service.”
The online records show that the company has not been involved in any crashes in the last two years that were reported to federal regulators.
Big Red Bullet advertises bus rides from Ithaca to New York City that leave at 7 on Sunday evenings. Lackawanna County is about a two-hour drive from Ithaca.
Big Red Bullet launched in the fall of 2015 and is a private company not affiliated with the University. Cornell operates a bus from Ithaca to New York City, but a spokesperson confirmed that none of Cornell’s buses were involved in the crash.
Joel Malina, Cornell’s vice president for university relations, extended the University’s “deepest sympathies” to Blanco’s family and friends and said Cornell would be “monitoring the situation closely as our thoughts and prayers remain with all of those involved.”
One of Blanco’s close friends, Julianna Debler M.B.A. ’19 J.D. ’19, said Blanco was “the happiest and friendliest person you’d ever meet.”
“With the way she talked and laughed, she was always ‘glowing.’” Debler said. “She was also loving and selfless, always giving back to meaningful causes … Becca truly was (and now is) an angel.”