Four people were killed and at least 21 people injured after a semi-truck jackknifed and caused a tour bus to overturn Wednesday on the eastbound 10 Freeway near the Arizona border, officials said.
The crash was reported at about 2:15 a.m. at a border inspection station east of Blythe, California Highway Patrol officials said.
The semi-truck was trying to pass a slower car. When the driver pulled over to the left, the wheels caught on the dirt and jackknifed into a median, CHP officials said.
Carrying steel pipes, the semi-truck spilled its load and caused accidents on the eastbound lane. The semi-truck collided with an SUV and possibly other vehicles, a Caltrans official said.
Some pipes also rolled onto westbound lanes and caused a bus to overturn. It landed about 40 to 50 feet off the shoulder, a Caltrans official said.
The bus was carrying 32 people, and was headed from El Paso, Texas to Los Angeles. The four people killed were passengers on the bus, which belongs to El Paso-Los Angeles Limousine Express, Inc.
El Paso-Los Angeles Limousine Express is a low-cost bus service with terminals in six states, including California, Arizona and Texas, according to the company website.
Seventeen people were transported to Palo Verde Hospital in Blythe, including 15 with minor injuries and two with moderate injuries. One person was airlifted to Eisenhower Hospital. Two people were airlifted to Desert Regional Medical Center. One person was taken to Parker Hospital in Parker, Arizona.
Bus passenger Juan Flores was on his way back home to Hawthorne, riding in the middle portion of the bus.
"I thought I was going to be crushed between the seats," said Flores. "I was half asleep when it happened. I heard a noise when the bus hit something, and I woke up."
Richard Lee of La Mirada was heading eastbound, also asleep at the time. He says his mother fought to maintain control of their SUV after it hit one of the pipes.
"At one point, I felt it kind of going into the dirt, into the embankment at an angle, and I was kind of preparing for it to flip," said Lee.
But the vehicle didn't flip. Lee got out of the SUV safely, and it was about a minute later that he saw the tour bus coming down the other side of the freeway.
"So the bus slammed on the brakes, hit those pipes," said Lee.
Lanes in both directions were blocked as six helicopters landed and transported the injured to hospitals. Officials re-opened one lane on each side of the freeway around 5 p.m.
Drivers headed eastbound can use Route 177 at Desert Center to Route 62 and Route 95, then connect back with the I-10. Westbound drivers can use exit 1, just west of the state line, turn right onto Poston Road, then go northbound for about 30 miles before turning left onto Agnes Wilson. After 10 miles, drivers can take the US-95 back to the I-10.