Driver from fatal casino tour bus crash previously appeared to fall asleep at wheel, passenger says

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A passenger who once rode regularly with the driver whose casino tour bus crashed into a large truck Sunday says she quit riding with him because he appeared to doze off at the wheel.

Rosa Esmeralda Vanegas told KPCC on Tuesday that she had been a passenger on the bus driven by Teodulo Elias Vides for three years, but stopped riding with him about a year and a half ago.

“It appeared that he was falling asleep, and people would say, ‘Oh, Mr. Elias, you’re falling asleep!’ And sometimes he’d hit the brakes really hard because I think he was dozing off,” Vanegas said.

This occurred more than half a dozen times, she said. Vanegas also said Vides would play at the casinos along with his passengers.

“The bad thing is that he’d gamble as much as we would. I understand he’s the bus owner and driver, he had to rest, but he’d gamble all night,” Vanegas said.

Vanegas is mourning her friend, Rosalba Ruiz, who died in the Sunday crash.

“Truth be told, I’m very sad, I’m very depressed,” Vanegas said.

Both lived in an apartment complex near the intersection of Jefferson and La Brea streets in Los Angeles and they liked going with Vides to casinos.

She said the trips were a distraction from the monotony of being at home. Vanegas worked for decades as a seamstress, but debilitating arthritis put her on disability, she said.

Other passengers said Vides was a safe driver.

Marisol Mejia, speaking in Spanish as she visited a makeshift memorial in Koreatown Monday, said Vides was a good driver and she often traveled with him to the casinos. She said she went as far as the Golden Acorn with him, which is near the U.S.-Mexico border east of San Diego.

Late Saturday, Vides picked up his passengers in L.A. and drove to the Red Earth Casino near the Salton Sea. They stayed for four to five hours, then began their trip back to L.A. early the next morning.

At about 5:15 a.m., the bus collided with the truck on the 10 Freeway near Indian Canyon Road, killing 13 people including the bus driver and injuring 31 others.

Investigators are looking into what may have caused the collision. Fatigue, medical reasons, distraction and other human factors are being examined, along with any mechanical issues with the bus and surrounding driving conditions.

Skid marks were not found at the scene, indicating the bus may not have braked, California Highway Patrol border division chief Jim Abele said.

This story has been updated.

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