(Adds details on crash; bus company's safety record)
By Gene Blevins
YUCAIPA, Calif. Feb 4 At least eight people
were killed and dozens more injured when a tour bus returning to
Mexico from a Southern California ski resort crashed on a
mountain road and rolled over, ejecting several passengers,
authorities said on Monday.
The bus driver, who survived the Sunday evening crash,
reported to authorities that the motor coach had experienced a
mechanical failure of some kind at the time of the accident,
California Highway Patrol Sergeant Billy Rangel said.
"The bus driver is saying there were issues with the
brakes," said Terri Kasinga, a spokeswoman for the California
Federal transportation safety records show the
California-based company identified by police as the bus
operator was cited for dozens of maintenance violations over the
past two years, including bald tires and brake problems as
recently as July 2012.
There was no immediate indication that alcohol, drugs or
road conditions were factors in the crash, which occurred at
about 6:30 p.m. on Highway 38 near the town of Yucaipa, about 70
miles (113 km) east of Los Angeles, police said.
The chartered bus was carrying a group of people home from a
ski outing in California's Big Bear Lake resort area back to
Tijuana, Mexico, when it struck a car from behind on the way
down the mountain and careened out of control, Rangel said.
The motor coach then rolled over and slammed into a pickup
truck, throwing several passengers from the bus, he said. The
pickup was crushed in the wreck.
The mangled bus came to rest right-side-up with its front
tires hanging over a culvert along the shoulder of the road, and
authorities were still extracting bodies from the wreckage some
19 hours after the crash, Kasinga said.
Rangel said eight people were confirmed killed and roughly
35 others were taken to hospitals with injuries, at least one of
them in critical condition. The drivers of the car and pickup
truck struck by the bus also survived, he said.
Investigators later determined that 39 people, including the
driver, were on the bus, and all the passengers are believed to
be Mexican nationals, Highway Patrol spokesman Officer Cliff
The bus was operated by Scapadas Magicas, a tour company
based in National City, California, just south of San Diego,
Highway Patrol spokesman Mario Lopez said. The firm also
operates in Tijuana.
The company's safety record ranks in the bottom 25 percent
of all private U.S. bus operators based on ratings by the
Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, according to
records posted on the agency's website.
Twenty-six safety inspections of the Scapadas fleet -
consisting of two motor coaches and a passenger van - found a
total of 59 vehicle maintenance violations during the past two
years, the agency said.
Violations ranged from oil and gas leaks and improper
battery installation to worn brakes, power steering problems,
tires with low tread, improper wiring and faulty headlamps. The
company was also cited in August 2012 for having a passenger-van
driver with a suspended license on the payroll.
Representatives for Scapadas Magicas could not immediately
be reached for comment.
One motorist who said she pulled over to let the bus pass
her on the highway shortly before the accident told City News
Service (CNS) that the bus had appeared behind her at a rate of
speed that led her to believe it was having brake difficulties.
"I saw headlights in my rear-view mirror and I just pulled
over to the side of the road," Betty Harvey told CNS, adding
that she encountered the crash scene further downhill moments
(Additional reporting by Marty Graham, Tim Gaynor and Steve
Gorman; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and