Men ‘roughhousing’ before fatal fall from moving bus

Hospital releases surviving man

The bus where two men fell out of a window is parked at the Leominster State Police barracks. Thomas D. Johnson of Gardner, a tiling contractor, died. The bus where two men fell out of a window is parked at the Leominster State Police barracks. Thomas D. Johnson of Gardner, a tiling contractor, died. (Jim Davis/ Globe Staff)
By Eric Moskowitz
Globe Staff / April 5, 2011

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State officials said yesterday that “roughhousing’’ caused a Winchendon nurse and a Gardner contractor to tumble from the bathroom window of a fast-moving bus after an all-day pub crawl, killing one of the men and seriously injuring the other.

But with the investigation ongoing, state officials provided few new details yesterday about what happened Saturday in the moments before Thomas D. Johnson of Gardner and Seth N. Davis of Winchendon fell from the window as the bus traveled west on Route 2 in Shirley.

“I would just say we’re still investigating the entire incident,’’ said Tim Connolly, a spokesman for Worcester District Attorney Joseph D. Early Jr., declining to more fully characterize the roughhousing or elaborate on how or why the window opened.

With the bus held at the State Police barracks in Leominster and detectives continuing to investigate, friends and family of Johnson mourned the death of the 31-year-old tiling contractor and retired Marine.

Davis, 34, a registered nurse, was released yesterday from UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester, his mother said.

The bus, owned by Colonial Tours, Inc., of Natick, was traveling at 60 miles per hour when the two men fell out, landing in the far-right lane about 10:20 p.m. They were near the end of a 12-hour beer lovers’ expedition, a 200-plus-mile roundtrip from the Gardner Ale House with stops at the Wachusett Brewing Co. in Westminster, the Redhook Ale Brewery in Portsmouth, N.H., the Cape Ann Brewing Co. in Gloucester, and The Tap in Haverhill.

The district attorney’s office said the pub crawl was organized by Gardner Ale House patrons through USA Bus Charter of California, with A1 Chauffeur of Randolph as a subcontractor, using a Colonial Tours-owned bus. Neither Colonial Tours nor USA Bus returned calls seeking comment, while A1 declined to comment, citing the investigation.

Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration records indicate that Colonial Tours has a below-average safety record with its eight-bus fleet. Of 22 vehicle inspections in the last 24 months, 10 resulted in violations that prompted inspectors to rule the buses out of service pending repairs, more than double the national average. Those violations appeared to be unrelated to Saturday’s incident.

Johnson’s mother, Katherine Roza, told the Globe Sunday that she was searching for answers. Johnson’s stepfather, Martin Roza, said yesterday that he and his wife had learned nothing new as they prepared to fly to Massachusetts from California. “We were hoping to talk to one of the friends on the bus,’’ he said.

Davis’s mother, Martha Pickard of Gardner, said she does not believe the two men, who were acquaintances, were fighting.

“Everyone got along on the trip; from what I understand, they had a great day,’’ said Pickard, whose son was on the trip with his wife. “We just feel like it was a tragic accident; we really do, and we’re just very fortunate that Seth wasn’t injured more severely or killed. And our hearts and thoughts and prayers go out to [Johnson’s] family.’’

Johnson was a “beloved regular’’ and member of the Gardner Ale House’s Mug Club, with a numbered stein over the bar, the Gardner Ale House posted yesterday on its Facebook wall, offering this explanation: “The tour was only minutes from completion when horseplay went awry.’’

Doug Desmarais, who had hired Johnson to retile his kitchen and bath in Ashburnham, told the Globe yesterday that he was in shock as he contemplated the partially completed work and the tools Johnson left behind.

“That’s been the toughest thing,’’ said Desmarais, who saw Johnson just before the pub crawl. “He was just really excited. . . . I was like, ‘Have at it, have a good time.’ ’’

On Johnson’s Facebook page, loved ones left dozens of messages.

“Our families want to thank everyone for the kind words posted. Tom loved all his friends and family so much and he is looking down upon us feeling that love in return. We all miss him very much,’’ wrote Jennifer Cullen, his girlfriend.

Eric Moskowitz can be reached at