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Tour bus crash: NTSB begins investigation

February 5, 2013 12:00:00 AM PST
A federal investigation begins Tuesday into the tour bus crash outside Yucaipa that left seven people dead and dozens of others injured.

Teams of investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board and California Highway Patrol began the task of inspecting the bus to determine the cause of the crash. On Monday, the CHP said their multi-disciplinary accident team interviewed the bus driver from his hospital bed. They have not revealed any details from that conversation.

The 1996 Van Hool bus crashed along Highway 38 while en route to Tijuana after a day in Big Bear around 6:30 p.m. Sunday. Investigators say the bus rear-ended a car, rolled over and collided with a pickup truck.

Witnesses on the bus said they heard the bus driver, identified as Norberto Perez, 52, of San Ysidro, shouting to call 911 because the bus' brakes had failed. But the calls never made it to emergency dispatchers because of bad cellphone reception in the mountains. It will be up to investigators with the NTSB and CHP to determine exactly what caused the bus to crash.

"They will be going to the motor carrier's site of business. They will be conducting a review of their maintenance records, their safety records and get a copy of the driver's qualifications file," said NTSB official Robert Accetta.

Authorities have confirmed that the bus is operated by Scapadas Magicas LLC, a company based in National City in San Diego County. Federal transportation records show Scapadas Magicas LLC was licensed to carry passengers for interstate travel, and that it had no crashes in the past two years.

However, buses operated by the firm flunked 36 percent of random inspections on its vehicles. The tour bus' maintenance records reveal the company was inspected numerous times and cited for violations between January 2011 and October 2012. According to the Department of Transportation, the violations included insufficient brake linings, power steering issues, tire problems and fuel tank violations. But the Department of Transportation still gave the company a satisfactory rating.

The bus has been moved to an Ontario yard where investigators will do a bumper-to-bumper inspection. The CHP said it will likely be several weeks before a report is ready and charges, if any, are filed.

The dead included San Diego residents 13-year-old Victor Cabrera-Garcia, Elvira Garcia Jimenez, 40, and Guadalupe Olivas, 61; and Tijuana residents Aleida Adriana Arce Hernandez, 38, Rubicelia Escobedo Flores, 34, and Mario Garcia Santoyo 32, said San Bernardino County coroner's supervisor Tony Campisi. One woman remained unidentified.

As of Tuesday afternoon, eight of the survivors from the accident were hospitalized at Loma Linda University Medical Center. A man and a girl remain in critical condition.

Passenger Diana Maldonado, 28, of San Diego, was with seven friends from Tijuana. She occupied a seat by herself. She described the moments of terror to her family as she recovered at Loma Linda University Medical Center.

"All she did was started praying and put the sweater over her head and all she heard was people praying, crying," said Olivia Quintero, Maldonado's cousin. "She only told me the bus was going too fast, they told everybody hold on to your partner."

With no one to hold onto, Maldonado was ejected through a window. She was being treated for back and shoulder injuries and was in fair condition.

At Arrowhead Regional Medical Center, two women were upgraded from critical to serious condition. One man was in fair condition and another man was released Monday.

All patients at Redlands Community Hospital were released Monday afternoon. The hospital treated seven patients.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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