Federal and state authorities investigating the deadly Aug. 2 crash of a charter bus in northern California are taking a close look at the driver’s record, the vehicle’s maintenance history, and other factors that may have played a role in the accident.
The charter bus, owned and operated by Autobuses Coordinados USA, was traveling from Mexico to Pasco, Wash., along California State Route 99 when it veered off the highway in Livingston and crashed into a sign pole at 3:30 a.m. The bus was carrying 50 people.
Initial reports said that five people were killed, but the California Highway Patrol (CHP) has since amended the number of deaths to four. Eighteen people were injured in the collision and many victims had limbs severed as the sign pole ripped through the middle of the bus, stopping at the first rear axle. Three patients originally classified as critical were upgraded Thursday to serious.
According to ABC7 News San Francisco, the California Department of Motor Vehicles confirmed that driver Mario Vasquez, 57, of Los Angeles, has a history of driving violations, including an illegal/improper or unsafe lane change in Washington in January 2014, speeding in excess of 15 miles mph in Oregon in Oct. 23, 2014, and a serious traffic violation in California that resulted in his license being suspended from January 2015 through March 24, 2015. Mr. Vasquez was caught driving during that suspension period on Feb. 5, 2015.
A witness who was not on the bus told ABC7 News that he saw the driver helping passengers out of the wreckage after the crash but later saw him lying on the ground, possibly because he was hit by a passing vehicle. Mr. Vasquez remains in the hospital but authorities have not been able to interview him because of his injuries.
The same witness also told investigators that he heard an unusual “clinking” sound coming from the bus as it passed him on the highway.
A passenger on the bus when it crashed told Washington’s Tri-City Herald newspaper that it appeared Mr. Vasquez was attempting to pass another vehicle that wouldn’t allow him to merge.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) classifies the carrier as “satisfactory” in its safety reviews. According to the Associated Press, the bus involved in Tuesday’s crash was inspected in April and had three violations, including a brake warning device that was either missing or defective.