A truck driver whose rig collided with a tour bus in Palm Springs, killing 13 people and injuring 31 others, pleaded not guilty Wednesday to more than 40 felony and misdemeanor counts, including vehicular manslaughter.
Investigators determined that Bruce Guilford, 51, of Covington, Georgia, fell asleep at the wheel in the early morning hours of Oct. 23, 2016, minutes before a tour bus slammed into the rear of his rig on westbound Interstate 10. Teodulo Elias Vides, owner of the USA Holiday bus company, was killed, along with a dozen of his passengers riding near the front of the bus.
Guilford, who was arrested in his home state last month and booked into the Robert Presley Detention Center in Riverside last Friday night, appeared before a judge at the Larson Justice Center Wednesday morning and pleaded not guilty to 42 counts of vehicular manslaughter and reckless driving.
The Riverside County District Attorney’s Office filed the charges against Guilford about two weeks before the National Transportation Safety Board concluded that both Guilford and Vides were both sleep-deprived.
On the day of the crash, Guilford was on his second round trip from Eufaula, Alabama, to Salinas within two weeks, according to an arrest warrant declaration prepared by California Highway Patrol Officer Scott Parent. Guilford had previously driven the route from Oct. 8 to Oct. 18, then departed again on a second trip starting Oct. 19.
Parent alleged that Guilford violated maximum driving time regulations and tried to hide the violations by falsifying his driver’s daily log, with the nearly nonstop driving he allegedly undertook resulting “in acute sleep deprivation.”
Guilford was “not the party determined to be most at fault for this collision,” but his falling asleep behind the wheel “was a substantial factor in the deaths of 13 individuals,” Parent alleged.
NTSB investigators said Vides had barely slept leading up to the wreck and crashed his bus into the truck at 76 mph despite having about 20 seconds to see the rig and take evasive action. An NTSB report released last month said Vides had slept about four hours in the 35 hours preceding the crash.
NTSB Chairman Robert L. Sumwalt said, “In this crash, not one but two commercial vehicle drivers — people who drive for a living — were unable to respond appropriately to cues that other motorists did act on.”
Guilford remains in the Riverside County jail in lieu of $500,000 bail and will return to court Dec. 5 for a felony settlement conference.
–City News Service
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