Local News

Tour Bus Had Poor Safety Record Before Crash

NEAR YUCAIPA, Calif. — The investigation into a tour deadly bus crash continues, amid revelations that the bus and its owner had been cited repeatedly for safety issues.

The death toll has been revised to seven, with many others still hospitalized.

Mentone Fatal Tour Bus CrashThe coroner has identified six of the seven victims of the crash, which happened around 6:30 p.m. Sunday on State Route 38 near Yucaipa.

They include Guadalupe Olivas, 61; Elvira Garcia Jimenez, 40; and Victor Cabrera Garcia, 13, all from San Diego.

Also killed were Mario Garcia Santoyo, 32; Aleida Adriana Arce Hernandez, 38; and Rubicelia Escobedo Flores, 34, all from Tijuana, Mexico.

The tour bus, owned by Scapadas Magicas, of National City, left Tijuana early Sunday with 38 passengers, including children, authorities said.

It was descending from the ski resort town of Big Bear Lake when the driver apparently lost control about four miles from Yucaipa.

The bus clipped a small Saturn sedan before it veered into oncoming traffic and began to roll, crushing an oncoming Ford pickup before coming to rest.

Passengers who were not wearing seat belts were tossed from the bus. Backpacks, clothing and body parts were strewn across the crash site.

All of those killed were bus passengers, according to the California Highway Patrol.

“It is a gruesome and horrible scene,” said Officer Leon Lopez, spokesman for the CHP. “It’s one of the most horrific scenes I’ve ever seen in 10 years with the department.”

The dozens of injured were transported to at least four local hospitals. Some suffered minor injuries and were treated and released.

Two passengers, including a child, remained in critical condition at Loma Linda University Medical Center.

There were three people inside the sedan who escaped serious injury. The driver of the pickup truck had to be cut out of his vehicle.

Investigators believe that a problem with the bus’ brakes may be to blame for the crash.

The driver, as well as passengers, reported that the bus was experiencing mechanical problems before the accident occurred.

Officials have interviewed the bus driver, identified as Norberto B. Perez, 52, of San Ysidro, but have not released his account of what happened.

Meantime, records show that the bus and its owner, Scapadas Magicas, had been cited repeatedly in recent months for poor maintenance.

In October, Scapadas Magicas was cited for eight deficiencies found during a roadside check of the vehicle.

Those included a damaged windshield and lack of a properly installed fire extinguisher.

In July, the same bus was cited for a damaged windshield, as well as a faulty axle and brakes. In May, its wheel fasteners were loose or missing.

In all, federal inspectors found 59 violations on Scapadas Magicas’ buses in the last two years, U.S. Department of Transportation safety records show.

As a result, the Transportation Department had placed Scapadas Magicas on a watch list that prioritized its buses for intervention and roadside inspections.

Maria McDade, who said she was Scapadas Magicas’ administrator for more than 20 years before retiring last year, said none of the company’s buses had ever been in an accident.

She also said that, aside from a fine of $2,500, the company had complied with all Department of Transportation regulations.

The tour bus was operating under a contract with Tijuana-based InterBus Tours. The agency suspended its operations on Monday.

In a message on its Facebook page, InterBus Tours expressed regret for the accident and said that is contractor was insured.

Sales Manager Jordi Garcia said the agency’s insurance would be handling burial expenses for the deceased.

He said that the company had been open for a year and offered daily trips to Disneyland, Six Flags Magic Mountain and Universal Studios.

Big Bear was also a popular destination this time of year, according to Garcia, and the cost of the excursion was $40.

He said the business contracts with independently owned bus operators and that they are responsible for complying with all U.S. and Mexican regulations.

Garcia said that the agency has never had a problem in the past with any of the operators with whom they contract.

Information from The Los Angeles Times