Bus company in deadly Merced County crash has history of violations, problems

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A crash that nearly sliced a bus in half in Merced County, California, is under investigation after four people were killed and several others lost limbs. (AP Photo/Scott Smith)

A California sheriff said several injured passengers lost limbs when a speeding bus veered off a highway and struck a pole, killing four people.

On Wednesday, the four victims were identified as Fernando Ramirez, 57, Jose Morales Bravo, 68, Petra Carillo Ruiz, 64, and Jaime De Los Santos, 38. The cities or towns where the victims were from was not released.

Merced County Sheriff Vern Warnke told The Associated Press that the bus hit the pole of a highway sign head-on at about 3 p.m. on Tuesday, and it sheared through the vehicle before stopping at the first axle "with a great impact."

A passenger on the bus said moments before the crash, it appeared the driver was attempting to pass another vehicle that he expected to yield, but it wouldn't let him merge.

According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, Autobuses Coordinados USA had 29 inspections over the past two years.

MORE: Survivor recalls harrowing Highway 99 bus crash

Federal regulators gave the bus company a "satisfactory" rating in May, but there could be more to the records than the rating indicates. CHP officers visited the company's headquarters on Monday.

The company hasn't had any crashes in the last two years. However, when it comes to inspections, the company's percentage of vehicle and driver violations is greater than the national average. And the driver of the vehicle that crashed on Tuesday had the most significant driver violations on record.

The bus is registered to a Fresno company, though it's unclear if that company was operating the bus when it crashed. The company has eight vehicles and 14 drivers in its fleet.

Driver violations highlight problems with multiple driver's log books including a "false report."

The most severe driver violation, which happened on February 5, 2015, involved a driver who was operating a vehicle on a suspended license.

According to an online criminal record check, that driver is Mario Vasquez, the same one who was operating the bus that crashed on Tuesday. Vasquez, a 57-year-old Los Angeles resident, was charged February 6, 2015, and convicted the following month.

Vasquez was hospitalized with serious injuries. His family told Eyewitness News on Tuesday that he has had one prior minor accident due to ice on the roads. They also said Vasquez became a U.S. citizen last year.

Out of 26 vehicle inspections, eight vehicles were placed out of service, more than 30 percent, which is higher than the national average of 20 percent.

MORE: Four dead after bus sliced in half by sign in Central California crash

Of the 18 driver inspections, four drivers were placed "out of service." That's 22 percent, which is significantly higher than the national average of just five percent.

Vehicle violations highlight several instances of brake problems, including one instance of "no brake warning device" or "a defective brake warning device."

There was also an instance of non-working headlights, a tire worn down so much the inner material was exposed, and two instances of worn, welded or missing steering system components.

During a mid-morning press conference Wednesday, the National Transportation and Safety Board said it would investigating Vasquez, along with road conditions and all other variables to determine the cause of the crash.

The charter bus was traveling from Mexico to Pasco, Washintgton. It had made a stop in Los Angeles, had a scheduled one in Livingston and one in Sacramento before it could reach its final destination.

According to a survivor of the crash, the bus was heading to Washington to provide the 30 passengers with jobs picking apples.
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bus crashtraffic fatalitieshighway 99investigationCHPbus driverbusCentral California
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