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Sunday -- Bus overturns near Yucaipa
Monday -- Crews clear scene of fatal bus crash on Hwy 38; six victims identified
The federal investigation into Sunday's deadly bus crash near Yucaipa has only just begun, the lead investigator said Tuesday, describing a process that authorities say could take months.
Robert Accetta, the National Transportation Safety Board's investigator-in-charge, held a news conference Tuesday afternoon at Certified Towing in Ontario, where the vehicles involved in Sunday's crash were taken.
"Keep in mind this is just day two of this investigation. We so far have weighed the vehicles involved in the accident and are in process of taking overhead photographs of the accident vehicles," he said.
A Tijuana tour bus carrying 38 people crashed on Highway 38 on Sunday evening after the group spent the day at Big Bear Lake.
Seven people were killed and more than 30 were injured. The bus went out of control about 6:30 p.m.
All seven victims killed in Sunday's bus crash near Yucaipa have been identified, according to San Bernardino County coroner's officials.
The victims are:
Other victims were being treated at Arrowhead Regional Medical Center in Colton.
One man was discharged Monday, and a 36-year-old man was in fair condition.
Two women were upgraded from critical to serious condition. One of the women is 52.
At Loma Linda University Medical Center, one man and one girl remained in critical condition; another man was in serious condition; and two women, a girl, boy and one man were in fair condition.
When the bus hit a boulder on the roadside, it rolled back onto its wheels and stopped, partially hanging over the edge of a ravine. Some passengers were thrown off the bus.
San Bernardino County coroner's officials identified a seventh and victim Tuesday: Liliana Camerina Sanchez Sauceda, 24, of Tijuana.
All passengers had been picked up in Tijuana, but not all were Mexican nationals. Three of the seven killed passengers were San Diego residents. They were Guadalupe Olivas, 61, Elvira Garcia Jimenez, 40, and Victor Cabrera Jimenez, 13. The Tijuana residents who died were Aleida Adriana Arce Hernandez, 38, Rubicelia Escobedo Flores, 34, Mario Garcia Santoyo, 32, and Sauceda.
Behind Accetta, investigators used a fire truck ladder to photograph the vehicles from above.
"Now the California Highway Patrol is working on the motor coach. Eventually, they will take out the other vehicles and take overhead photographs of those. The photographs will be used in the reconstruction as they proceed with the investigation."
That investigation will include a thorough analysis of the brakes, steering and suspension systems and other major components of the bus, CHP Officer Mario Lopez said.
After the photographs are finished, investigators will conduct a 3-D scan of the vehicles, for use in creating computer simulations of the crash. Only after the photographs and 3-D scan are complete, possibly by today, can the mechanical inspection begin.
The 1996 VanHool bus used an air-brake system, similar to one used on a semi- truck. If the vehicle lost all air pressure, a spring brake system built into all commercial vehicles should have been applied, Accetta said.
"It's designed to be foolproof, to stop the vehicle if it loses air pressure," he said.
In addition to the brakes, other parts of the bus will be inspected. The bus had an Engine Control Module, comparable to a plane's "black box" flight cockpit recorder, but he warned that it was an older model, and would likely not have as much information available as a newer one. Inspectors hadn't examined the ECM yet, as of Tuesday afternoon.
A second NTSB team is in San Diego, he said.
Bus driver Norberto Perez of San Ysidro did not make any radio calls for help or report any mechanical issues prior to the crash, as far as Accetta knew. He did say the California High Patrol had taken a blood sample from the driver and conducted a follow-up interviewTuesday.
"We are talking weeks, if not months" for the investigation to be completed, Lopez said.
Federal transportation records show that Scapadas Magicas, the busing company that provided the bus used by Interbus Tours, has three buses registered with the U.S. Department of Transportation, but the 21 random safety inspections recorded over the last two years logged seven California license plate numbers and one Mexican plate number.
"Why are they only telling the government three, but they're getting tickets on eight? That needs to be explained right off the bat," said Wayne Schooling, the president and CEO of the North American Transportation Association.
It is not uncommon for charter bus companies to lease buses from other companies if the number of bookings they have exceeds the number of buses available, said Duane DeBruyne, spokesman for the U.S. Department of Transportation.
"It's very typical in the busing industry," DeBruyne said.
The federal government has begun cracking down on commercial bus and truck companies with unsafe track records.
In January, the U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration ordered Canadian bus company Mi Joo Tour & Travel to cease operations in the U.S. following a Dec. 30, 2012 crash in Oregon involving one of its buses in which nine passengers were killed and 39 injured. Investigators learned that Mi Joo allowed the driver of the bus to continue driving after having already exceeded the weekly maximum of 70 hours allowed under federal regulations.
In December, the federal government shuttered Illinois-based busing company LEX ExpressInc. after finding numerous safety violations including false reporting of records, failure to properly inspect buses and failure to maintain vehicle parts and accessories.
The federal government also ordered shut in December Atlanta-based charter bus company Aglemoarge Services due to a pattern of "serious safety violations that pose an imminent hazard to public safety," according to a Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration news release.
"In the last year alone we've shut down almost 50 bus and truck companies on the spot for severe violations of federal safety regulations, and we won't hesitate to put a company out of service that is flagrantly not complying with the federal safety regulations," DeBruyne said.
The federal government has ramped up its oversight of commercial trucks and buses with safety and compliance issues. In December, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration beefed up its safety measurement system so the agency could better identify and take action against commercial truck and bus operators with a history of repeated safety violations.
Despite all that, commercial vehicle transport is still one of the safest modes of transportation, DeBruyne said.
"The number of crashes involving large commercial trucks and buses has been declining," he said.
Spray-paint markings from the accident investigation dotted the roadway Tuesday, along with leftover fragments of glass and vehicles.
A single bouquet of flowers had been placed in a mound of dirt on the roadside Monday where the bus had stopped.
Nam Nguyen, 58, of Yucaipa stopped by the scene after he read about the crash on the Internet.
"It's terrible - very bad accident," he said.
Nguyen says he takes Highway 38 to Big Bear Lake frequently, and knows it can be dangerous for people who aren't used to it.
"I use the road all the time, so it's not dangerous for me," he said.
Witnesses to the crash can call the CHP at 909-806-2400.
Staff Writer Jim Steinberg contributed to this story.
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