At least 5 dead in Central California tour bus crash
April 29, 2009
SOLEDAD, Calif. ” At least five people were killed and dozens injured when a tour bus carrying French tourists overturned on a Central California highway overpass Tuesday, authorities said.
The crash, which occurred shortly before 3:30 p.m., ejected four passengers from the vehicle, sending one over the side of the road and onto railroad tracks 60 to 70 feet below, said California Highway Patrol spokesman Brian Wiest. Luggage and bodies were strewn on U.S. 101 in Soledad, about 100 miles southeast of San Francisco.
“It’s a tragedy,” Wiest said. “It’s certainly one of worst I’ve seen in a long time.”
Maia Carroll, a spokeswoman for the Monterey County Office of Emergency Services, said there were at least five confirmed deaths ” three who died at the scene, including the passenger who fell to the railroad tracks, and two who later died at hospitals.
A total of 36 people had been on board, including 34 French tourists, one Canadian tour guide and an American driver, Wiest said.
Four of those injured were under the age of 18, including a 13-year-old girl who was airlifted to a Fresno hospital, Wiest said. The driver was among those who survived the crash, according to the CHP.
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Jacques de Noray, a spokesman for the French consulate in San Francisco, said authorities had notified his office that the crash involved French citizens, but said he had no further details.
The tour, which started in San Francisco, was en route to Southern California, where the tourists were due to fly out of Los Angeles back to France, Wiest said. The group had been in the U.S. since April 19 and made stops Tuesday in Monterey and Carmel before the crash, authorities said.
The maroon bus, bearing the name Orion Pacific, lay on its side after crashing into the guard rail on the two-lane southbound overpass. Authorities were investigating the cause of the incident.
“At this time, it appears to just be a solo-vehicle incident, meaning just the tour bus itself was involved,” Wiest said.
A person who answered the phone at Orion Pacific, which describes itself as a family-owned, luxury charter coach company based in Orange, said no one was available for comment. It was not immediately clear who had chartered the bus that crashed in Soledad.
The highway was temporarily shut down in both directions; northbound lanes reopened a couple hours later, and it was unclear when southbound lanes would reopen.
Adrienne Laurent, a spokeswoman for the Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital, said the facility had received three patients from the crash. She said one of those patients, a 52-year-old man, was declared dead there.
Patients also were being treated at eight other hospitals, including seven patients airlifted to Fresno and the San Francisco Bay area.
The Red Cross was helping coordinate housing and other services Tuesday night for three families who survived the crash and were released from hospitals, said Paula Herrera, executive director of the Monterey-San Benito chapter.
CHP spokeswoman Fran Clader in Sacramento could not comment on Orion Pacific’s safety record pending the accident investigation. The company has been operating since 1985, according to its Web site.
In October, 10 people were killed and many others injured when a casino-bound charter bus carrying 42 passengers crashed in Colusa County. CHP officials say the driver, 52-year-old Quintin Watts, fell asleep at the wheel, and the district attorney has not yet decided whether to charge him in the case.
Authorities also suspect driver fatigue in an April 4 bus crash near Lake Tahoe. The bus, operated by the Resort at Squaw Creek and carrying employees, veered off the freeway and rolled at least once, killing one passenger and injuring 24 others. That crash remains under investigation.