Officials investigating the bus crash near Palm Springs that killed a Los Angeles-based tour bus driver and 12 passengers said Tuesday the vehicle’s tires were overly worn, putting them out of compliance with current regulations.
National Transportation Safety Board officials said six of the eight bus tires were below the recommended minimum tread depth, meaning the bus was out of compliance with Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance inspection criteria. The four tires located on the steer axle were out of compliance, along with two tires on the drive axle, according to NTSB’s Earl Weener.
The details were the first released regarding the NTSB investigation since officials began their probe into the deadly crash. NTSB investigators are expected to be in the area for about a week before returning to Washington, D.C., for a thorough investigation that could take up to a year to complete.
Despite the revelation about the tires, no conclusions have yet been reached about the cause of the crash. Weener said that after the investigation team departs for NTSB headquarters in Washington D.C., an analysis of factual data will be conducted.
“Only after this analysis is complete can we move toward a determination of probable cause,” said Weener.
NTSB officials said the activities and condition of bus owner/driver Teodulo Elias Vides, 59, at the time of the crash will be a key part of the multi-pronged investigation. Investigators have begun a review into the driving histories of both Vides and the truck driver, 50-year-old Bruce Guilford.
An inspection of the bus interior will be the next step of the investigation, according to NTSB.
“Our mission is to understand not only what happened but why it happened and to make safety recommendations to avoid having it happen again,” Weener said during a briefing in Indio on Monday.
Weener said the NTSB probe will move on multiple tracks, including reviews of human factors, highway conditions, vehicle conditions and interviews with survivors of the crash, which occurred when the bus slammed into the rear of a big rig around 5:15 a.m. Sunday on westbound Interstate 10 west of Indian Canyon Drive.
The bus had taken passengers for a night of gambling at the Red Earth Casino at Salton City, about 25 miles south of Indio, and was en route back to the Los Angeles area. In addition to the bus driver, there were 42 passengers aboard.
Thirteen people died and 31 were injured, including the driver of the truck that was rear-ended, according to California Highway Patrol Border Division Chief Jim Abele.
Weener said the cause of the crash would not be determined during the NTSB on-site review.
“We’ll try to determine if the driver had any condition which may have contributed to the crash,” he said. “This could include any potential medical condition, vision impairment, impairment by alcohol or other drugs or whether the driver was fatigued. We’ll also look to see if the driver was distracted as a factor.”
Rescuers on Sunday used a crane to search for victims in the crash, which peeled and compressed the coach cabin to almost half the vehicle’s length.
Abele said it’s unclear how fast the bus was traveling when it rear- ended the refrigerated truck trailer, which was carrying food. Authorities said the force of the collision indicated the bus was traveling at a far higher speed than the truck, which Abele said was traveling at about 5 mph, according to the truck driver. The posted speed limit is 70 mph.
Vides was listed as the Alhambra-based bus company USA Holiday’s registered owner and sole driver, according to federal transportation records. He was sued at least twice for negligence after collisions, one of which resulted in three deaths in Riverside, the Los Angeles Times reported.
His company received at least six “unsatisfactory” ratings from the California Highway Patrol and he had also been cited in several counties for traffic violations, the newspaper reported.
California Public Utilities Commission records indicate that Vides and the company were cited in a 2008 crackdown at Los Angeles International Airport for violations of state regulations.
But Vides was also well-liked in the Koreatown area of Los Angeles, where he would greet customers where Olympic Boulevard crosses Vermont Avenue. He had been driving passengers to casinos throughout the region for years and ran his business with his daughter, according to customers.
The bus had been inspected as late as last April and had shown no defects, Abele said.
Vides’ condition at the time of the crash was unknown, but Abele noted that “there was no appearance of braking.”
“There were no skid marks from the bus at the time of the collision,” Abele said, adding that “any time we have a bus hitting the back of a truck, we’re going to think fatigue, or a heart attack.”
Weener said the probe will also look into Vides’ driving history, USA Holiday and the tractor trailer company, highway conditions, weather and whether the passengers were given any safety briefing prior to the trip. Abele confirmed the bus was not equipped with seatbelts.
The people killed Sunday were riding toward the front of the bus. Abele said survivor accounts indicate that most of the passengers were asleep when the crash occurred.
About 15 people injured in the crash were taken to Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs, which reported Monday that four patients remained hospitalized in critical condition, with one each in serious and fair condition.
In addition to Vides, those killed in the crash were identified as:
— Tony Mai, 50;
— Yolanda Mendoza, 69;
— Isabel Jimenez Hernandez, 66;
— Rosa Ruiz, 53;
— Gustavo Green, 62;
— Zoila Aguilera, 72;
— Milagros Gonzales, 72;
— Conception Corvera, 57;
— Aracely Tije, 63;
— Dora Galvez de Rodriguez, 69;
— Elvia Sanchez, 52; and
— Ana Gomes de Magalion, 71.
All of the victims were Los Angeles residents with the exception of Corvera, who was from Palmdale.
Authorities are hoping to be contacted by crash witnesses. Anyone with information is asked to call the CHP Indio Office at (760) 772-8900.
— City News Service