Federal investigators released a preliminary report of a charter bus crash that killed three passengers and injured several others in Southern California Feb. 22.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) report states that a 2014 Freightliner bus operated by Executive Lines was traveling southbound on Interstate 15 (I-15) when the driver lost control of the vehicle.
The bus veered off the interstate, rolled over onto its roof, and slipped down a muddy embankment. Five passengers were ejected from the bus, including the three passengers who were killed: Cinthya Karely Rodriguez-Banda, 23; Maria De La Luz Diaz, 67; and Julia Perez Cornejo, 73.
The bus crash injured 18 other bus occupants including the driver. The injuries ranged from mild to critical. One of the passengers, a 5-year-old boy, reportedly suffered life-threatening head injuries.
The NTSB report says that investigators conducted a post-crash mechanical inspection and examined all major vehicle systems to determine whether the vehicle had a mechanical problem that could have contributed to the crash. The bus was equipped with an engine control module with data that is being analyzed by the California Highway Patrol. There were no video recording devices on the bus.
The report does indicate that there was moderate rainfall between 9:55 a.m. and 10:35 a.m. at the bus crash site in Pala Mesa, San Diego County when the crash occurred. However, the NTSB hasn’t determined whether those conditions contributed to the accident. The section of I-15 where the crash occurred has a speed limit of 70 mph.
According to NBC 7 San Diego and Associated Pess, the CHP said the 52-year-old driver of the bus voluntarily submitted to a drug and alcohol test, but there was no evidence that he was under the influence.
The NTSB also noted that the bus was equipped with three-point (lap and shoulder) passenger seatbelts, but only one passenger and the driver were using them correctly. At least two other passengers said they believed the seatbelts were for the lap only, according to the NTSB.
The bus was traveling from Los Angeles to San Ysidro on the Mexican border. The carrier, which runs regular shuttle service between the two cities, rated “satisfactory” in its last three state inspections and the driver was in compliance with hours-of-service regulations.
“The [NTSB] will continue to collect and analyze data, including all pertinent information in the areas of human performance; survival factors; and highway, vehicle, and motor carrier operations,” the board said in its preliminary report. “All aspects of the crash remain under investigation as the NTSB determines the probable cause with the intent of issuing safety recommendations to prevent similar crashes.”
It normally takes the NTSB 12-16 months to conclude an investigation and issue its final report.
Chris Glover, a lawyer in Beasley Allen’s Atlanta office, handles complex cases involving commercial vehicles including buses and 18-wheelers. He would be happy to talk with you about what to look for in a bus crash or truck accident case.