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Investigators Start to Piece Together Deadly Southern California Bus Crash

Red charter bus

Updated Information as Investigation Continues

On February 3, 2013, a Scapadas Magicas tour bus with 38 people on board crashed on U.S. Highway 38, leaving seven people dead and 30 others with injuries. The bus, on its way back to Tijuana, Mexico following a trip to Big Bear, California, crashed outside of Yucaipa. A man driving a pickup truck hit by the careening bus has since died of his injuries, raising the death toll to eight.

The sequence of events leading to the fatal accident apparently began at around 6:30 p.m., when the bus started to lose control for what passengers say was roughly five minutes. According to crash survivor Julio Vallejo, passengers began to hear a grinding sound and smelled smoke as the bus hurled down the two-lane mountain road. Passengers frantically tried to get the bus driver to stop the bus “any way he could.” The bus ended up rear-ending a Saturn passenger vehicle before colliding with a pickup truck head-on and overturning.

The deceased bus passengers include Aleida Adriana Arce Hernandez, 38, Rubicelia Escobedo Flores, 34, Mario Garcia Santoyo, 32, and Liliana Camerina Sanchez Sauceda, 24, all from Tijuana. Also killed were San Diego residents Guadalupe Olivas, 61, Elvira Garcia Jimenez, 40, and Victor Cabrera Garcia, 13. The driver of the pickup truck, 72-year-old Fred Bailey Richardson, also died from his injuries.

The Scapadas Magicas bus, like many tour buses operating in the U.S., was not outfitted with seat belts. Vallejo told reporters that he believed the seven people that were killed in the tragic accident might still be alive today if the Scapadas Magicas bus had been equipped with seatbelts.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is investigating the fatal tour bus accident. The federal investigation is only in the preliminary stages. According to lead investigator Robert Accetta, this investigation could take months to complete. Here is a rundown of where the investigation is currently – this list will be updated as more information becomes available.

The following is information that has come up in the ongoing investigation:

  • The Los Angeles Times reported on February 25 that 911 calls on the day of the accident indicated that brake problems may have been a core problem leading up to the crash. A 911 caller was quoted as saying the bus “passed up a line of traffic going about 80 miles per hour, I don’t know what’s wrong with the person driving the bus.” The dispatcher answered the caller by saying, “OK, because their brakes went out.”
  • On February 22, Guillermina Morales and her daughter Pamela, two passengers aboard the Scapadas Magicas bus, filed a lawsuit against both bus companies involved in the accident. The lawsuit claims that Interbus Tours and Charters, the company that booked the Morales’s travel, and Scapadas Magicas were negligent due to some combination of the bus’s brakes failing and the bus driver going too fast. The complaint was filed in San Bernardino Superior Court.
  • On February 14, the FMCSA announced that they will begin a crackdown on unsafe tour bus operators. The agency will investigate tour bus companies with a history of safety problems, including those that are repeatedly pulled over by Highway Patrol or those that repeatedly fail safety inspections. FMCSA officials will also begin to physically inspect buses rather than relying on company maintenance records, which up until now had been common practice during safety inspections.
  • On February 8, DOT ordered Scapadas Magicas to cease operations in the U.S. Investigators found “serious safety violations” in both of the company’s two other buses. DOT records also revealed that various safety violations had been found in 21 out of the last 25 agency maintenance inspections on the company’s buses.
  • The 1996 VanHool bus has an air brake system, similar to that of a tractor trailer. If the air pressure in this system is lost, a “spring backup system” is in place to be applied. According to Accetta, this system is “designed to be foolproof.”
  • All of the vehicles involved in the accident have been weighed, and investigators are in the process of photographing the wreckage to begin reconstructing the crash. Once all photos have been taken, the NTSB will do a 3-D scan of all vehicles involved to begin a computer simulation of the crash.
  • Investigators will conduct an analysis of the brakes, suspension, engine, steering, and all other major components of the bus, according to the California Highway Patrol.
  • A blood sample was taken from Norberto Perez, the driver of the bus, on Tuesday. This is common practice during accident investigations, and could potentially rule out alcohol and controlled substances. Results are expected in three to four weeks.
  • Perez had not made any calls regarding mechanical problems leading up to the crash, according to NTSB investigators.
  • So far, investigators looking into the records of Scapadas Magicas have found that the company has three buses registered with the U.S. Department of Transportation. Federal records also show that the bus in question has had numerous mechanical violations, including brake problems, and was ordered off the road twice last year after inspections found serious mechanical safety issues requiring repair.

Last updated on April 5, 2013



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