(Updates with police reducing confirmed death toll to seven,
By Gene Blevins
YUCAIPA, Calif. Feb 4 Seven 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
The bus driver, who survived the Sunday evening crash,
reported to authorities that he was having brake problems at the
time of the accident, said a California Transportation
Department spokeswoman, Terri Kasinga.
Other motorists reported seeing smoke coming from the rear
of the bus and told investigators the motor coach appeared to be
gaining uncontrolled momentum as it descended the curvy two-lane
road moments before the crash, California Highway Patrol
Sergeant Andrew Thompson said.
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.
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 from a ski
outing in California's Big Bear Lake resort area to their home
in Tijuana, Mexico, when it struck a car from behind on the way
down the mountain and careened out of control, said California
Highway Patrol Sergeant Billy Rangel.
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.
Authorities pulled the last of the bodies from the wreckage
about 19 hours after the crash, Thompson said.
DEATH TOLL REVISED DOWNWARD
Police initially reported eight people were killed and about
three dozen others were injured. But the Highway Patrol later
revised the death toll downward to seven, saying confusion at
the scene led to one victim being mistakenly double counted.
The dead were all bus passengers, and all the passengers
were believed to be Mexican nationals, police said.
A precise tally of those hurt and their conditions remained
uncertain on Monday afternoon, as the injured were sent to
several area hospitals and the passenger manifest did not match
all the names of victims at the scene, police said.
Police said it appeared that 39 people, including the
driver, were on the bus at the time of the crash, and that none
of the survivors escaped without at least some cuts and bruises.
The driver of the pickup truck, who was alone in his
vehicle, was hospitalized with major injuries. But neither the
driver nor either of the two passengers in the car rear-ended by
the bus was badly hurt, Thompson said.
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.
(Additional reporting by Marty Graham, Tim Gaynor and Steve
Gorman; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Cynthia Johnston,
Andrew Hay and Lisa Shumaker)