The California tour bus accident near Big Bear at 6:34 p.m. on Sunday involved a chartered bus that is owned by National City-based Scapadas Magicas and operated by Tijuana-based InterBus Tours. The lives of 43 people have been affected by the California tour bus accident; 38 passengers, the tour bus driver, and two people in each of the other vehicles.
San Diego’s 10News reported on Feb. 4, 2013, that “three of the people killed are from San Diego -- Guadalupe Olivas (age unverified), Elvira Garcia Jimenez (age unverified) and 13-year-old Victor Cabrera Garcia.”
While it appears that seven or eight people were killed in the California tour bus accident, the exact number has not been officially confirmed. The injuries sustained by the accident victims range from minor to life-threatening. At least 15 people were taken to hospitals in need of immediate treatment and seven were hospitalized with less serious injuries.
On Monday, San Diego’s 10News interviewed a local man who said that he was still trying to reach family members that were on the tour bus.
"They went on a field trip with some students in the University of Tijuana. Most of them are medical students. … The hospital [doesn't] have their names, [the California] Highway Patrol didn't answer our calls; we couldn't reach the fire department."
The California tour bus was taking tourists from Tijuana home following a trip to Big Bear that included snowboarding. Big Bear is a favorite winter sports location for many residents from San Diego and Tijuana since it usually involves a one-day bus tour leaving early in the morning and returning late at night.
Several of the fatally and critically injured people were thrown from the bus as it overturned. Some other tour bus passengers were trapped inside the overturned tour bus and had to be extricated by emergency personnel. The tour bus driver, 52-year-old Norberto Perez of San Ysidro in San Diego, remains hospitalized.
Betty Harvey, a local resident who was driving behind the California tour bus on Highway 38 between Forest Falls to Mentone said that Norberto Perez was moving slowly down Highway 38 from Big Bear with a line of cars behind it as the bus driver avoided using turnouts to let other vehicles by. At some point, Betty Harvey was able to pass the bus on a two-lane passing area but shortly after, “the bus appeared behind her at a rate of speed that made her think it was having brake trouble and she pulled over to let it pass.” When Betty Harvey reached the tour bus crash scene, "People were waving and screaming. … It was quite horrific."
Norberto Perez, the tour bus driver, told CHP officers that he was having brake problems on the hill. 10News reported on Monday night during its 11 p.m. news broadcast that the tour bus driver asked passengers to call 911 but that no one had a cell phone reception.
Fire department Battalion Chief Ronald Walls said that the tour bus struck a "Ford Explorer"-type of vehicle hauling a trailer and a smaller sedan. The California tour bus ran into the back of the sedan, overturned and plowed into the vehicle with the trailer.
In an investigation into the safety record of the bus company Scapadas Magicas, San Diego’s 10News team found that the tour bus company failed more than one-third of federal vehicle inspections.
“U.S. government records show that buses owned by National City-based Scapada Magicas flunked 36 percent of random federal inspections on their vehicles, in some cases for brake and tire problems.”
San Diego’s 10News also reported that the California tour bus company's failure rate is higher than the national average, which is 21 percent failure rate for other similar tour bus companies, and that according to the U.S. Department of Transportation Scapadas Magicas had been flagged for possible "intervention action and roadside inspection," due to ongoing maintenance problems.
“Initial evidence suggested that the brakes on the tour coach gave out, according to an official with InterBus Tours & Charters, which was leasing the bus from Scapadas Magicas.”
InterBus Tours & Charters states on their Facebook page both in Spanish and in English that,
“Interbus Tours y todo su equipo estamos trabajando para apoyar a nuestros clientes y familiares que lamentablemente sufrieron un accidente bajando de las montañas de Big Bear, en San Bernardino CA. Personal de Interbus se encuentran en nuestras oficinas como en los hospitales donde sabemos, las autoridades trasladaron a los heridos. Les proporcionamos el teléfono de las autoridades oficiales donde les otorgarán informacion de sus familiares (001) 909 428 5400 (Es necesario que llamen sólo los familiares). Estamos en contacto con personal del Consulado Mexicano en EU, quienes nos apoyarán en todo momento a afectados y familiares. A partir de las 9am de hoy, pueden llamar a los números (001) 909 889 9896 y (001) 909 889 9786 para informes de familiares que viajaron con nosotros. Es indispensable comentar que la unidad que subarrendamos cuenta con seguro que cubre este incidente. Por respeto a todos los afectados, no publicaremos la lista de pasajeros, hasta no saber por parte de las mismas autoridades los datos exactos de todos nuestros usuarios. Sentimos profundamente los sucedido y en todo momento estamos a la órden en nuestras oficinas, tels 6817882 y 9710908.”
The English translation is provided by Bing.
“INTERBUS Tours and his team are working to support our clients and their families that unfortunately suffered an accident coming down from the mountains of Big Bear in San Bernardino CA. Interbus staff are located in offices as in the hospitals where we know, the authorities transferred the wounded. We provide phone official authorities where awarded them information of their relatives (001) 909 428 5400 (you need to call only the relatives). We are in contact with the personnel of the Mexican Consulate in us, who will support us at all times to family and affected. From 9 am today, you can call the numbers (001) 909 889 9896 and (001) 909 889 9786 for reports from family members who traveled with us. It is necessary to comment that the unit that we subarrendamos have insurance covering this incident. Out of respect for all those affected, we will not publish the list of passengers, to not to know the exact details of all our users the same authorities. We deeply regret the happened and at all times are the order at our offices, 6817882 and 9710908 tels.”