Tour bus slams into truck; 13 dead, dozens hurt

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - OBITUARIES - By El­liot Sp­a­gat

PALM SPRINGS, CALIF. >> A tour bus re­turn­ing home to Los An­ge­les from a casino trip plowed into the back of a semi-truck on a Cal­i­for­nia high­way early Sun­day, killing 13 peo­ple and in­jur­ing 31 oth­ers, au­thor­i­ties said.

A main­te­nance crew had slowed down traf­fic on In­ter­state 10 be­fore the ve­hi­cles crashed just north of the desert re­sort town of Palm Springs, Cal­i­for­nia High­way Pa­trol Border Divi­sion Chief Jim Abele said. The work had gone on for hours with­out prob­lems, he said.

Abele said the bus car­ry­ing 44 pas­sen­gers was go­ing much faster than the truck, though a trauma sur­geon said the in­juries he saw in­di­cated it was slow­ing down at the point of im­pact.

“The speed of bus was so sig­nif­i­cant that the trailer it­self en­tered about 15 feet into the bus,” Abele told re­porters. “You can see it was a sub­stan­tial im­pact.”

It was not known if al­co­hol, drugs or fa­tigue played a role in the crash about 100 miles east of Los An­ge­les, but the bus was in­spected in April and had no me­chan­i­cal is­sues, Abele said. The bus driver was killed, and the truck driver re­ceived mi­nor in­juries.

The bus was com­ing from Red Earth Casino in the un­in­cor­po­rated com­mu­nity of Ther­mal and was about 35 miles into its 135-mile trip back to Los An­ge­les.

CHP of­fi­cers had been slow­ing traf­fic to al­low South­ern Cal­i­for­nia Edi­son work­ers to string wires across the free­way, Abele said.

Pas­sen­gers told of­fi­cials that most peo­ple were asleep when the crash oc­curred at 5:17 a.m. Abele said it ap­peared the 1996 bus didn’t have seat belts and likely didn’t have a black box that newer ve­hi­cles fea­ture.

Be­fore April, the bus also was in­spected in 2014 and 2015, the CHP said. Fed­eral Mo­tor Car­rier Safety Ad­min­is­tra­tion records show it had no crashes in the two years be­fore Oct. 22 and had a sat­is­fac­tory safety rating.

The front of the bus crum­pled into the semi-truck’s trailer and de­bris was scat­tered across the key route through South­ern Cal­i­for­nia. Fire­fight­ers used lad­ders to climb into the bus’ win­dows to re­move bod­ies, and tow trucks lifted the trailer to make it eas­ier to reach the bus, whose front end was de­mol­ished.

Four­teen pa­tients were sent to Desert Re­gional Med­i­cal Cen­ter in Palm Springs, the area’s only trauma cen­ter. Five were ad­mit­ted in crit­i­cal con­di­tion but were sta­ble and in in­ten­sive care by Sun­day af­ter­noon, said Dr. Ri­card Townsend, a trauma sur­geon. Seven oth­ers had been re­leased.

Many suf­fered fa­cial in­juries, a tell­tale sign they were not wear­ing seat belts, he said. He called the in­juries un­usual for a high­speed wreck — when you typ­i­cally see bro­ken bones — be­cause the bus hit the col­lapsi­ble trailer.

Doc­tors treated sev­eral spinal frac­tures but few other bone in­juries. The wounds in­di­cate the bus was slow­ing down when it struck, Townsend said.

Two other hos­pi­tals re­ceived pa­tients with mi­nor in­juries.

CHP Of­fi­cer Stephanie Hamil­ton told the Desert Sun news­pa­per in Palm Springs ear­lier Sun­day that the driver was one of the own­ers of tour bus com­pany, USA Hol­i­day, based near Los An­ge­les. The com­pany has one ve­hi­cle and one driver, ac­cord­ing to the Fed­eral Mo­tor Car­rier Safety Ad­min­is­tra­tion.

A phone mes­sage left for the com­pany was not im­me­di­ately re­turned. A Face­book mes­sage from USA Hol­i­day said it did not have much in­for­ma­tion about the crash.

The com­pany says on so­cial me­dia that it has more than 25 years of ex­pe­ri­ence in trav­el­ing to casi­nos in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia. It posts about trips leav­ing the Los An­ge­les area to casi­nos around the Coachella Val­ley and Las Ve­gas.

The Na­tional Trans­porta­tion Safety Board is send­ing a team to Cal­i­for­nia to in­ves­ti­gate the crash, board spokesman Eric Weiss said.

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Emer­gency re­spon­ders work at the scene of crash be­tween a tour bus and a semi-truck on In­ter­state 10 in Desert Hot Springs, near Palm Springs, in Cal­i­for­nia’s Mo­jave Desert, on Sun­day. Mul­ti­ple deaths and in­juries were re­ported.

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