A tour bus crash on Sunday left 13 people dead. Officials were still working to get to the bottom of what led to the crash on Monday as they began to identify the victims. Friends and family gathered to remember the victims.
- 1:39 p.m. Tour bus was on 'turnaround trip' when accident occurred
- 6:07 p.m. Remembering the victims
- 12:59 p.m. 11 victims identified in deadly Palm Springs tour bus crash
Officials held a press conference Monday afternoon on the early Sunday morning tour bus crash that left 13 dead. The owner/operator of the tour bus company, Teodulo Vides, has also been determined to be the driver, California Highway Patrol Sgt. Jim Abele said.
It's still too early to definitely say what caused the accident, Abele said. There were no signs of braking, such as skid marks, so far. The tour bus was also determined not to have seatbelts.
The tour bus was on what's known as a turnaround trip, Abele said. The bus arrived at the casino Saturday night between 11 and 11:30 p.m., then left at 4 a.m. The short turnaround time is a concern, Abele said, but that the burden is on the driver to be alert, whether it be through something like coffee or appropriate rest.
Officials released a full list of who was on the bus Monday, including 42 passengers plus the driver. All of the passengers except for one have been positively identified. All of the victims who died have been identified, though one victim's family has yet to be reached.
Thirty of the bus's occupants were transported to hospitals on Sunday, as well as the driver of the freight liner which the bus collided with, Abele said. The relationship between the driver and the casino is unknown, but the casino was able to provide a manifest of the bus's occupants. A majority of the passengers were asleep at the time of the crash, according to a statement taken by officials on Sunday.
The national Transportation Safety Board's on-site investigation is expected to last five to seven days, the NTSB's Earl Weener said at an afternoon press conference. Their investigators were divided into five groups, examining the human factors, the highway itself, the vehicle factors, the tour bus company as well as what they can learn from the survivors.
"We are learning the sad news that most of the victims who died in Sunday’s horrific tour bus crash near Palm Springs were Angelenos, and that the bus was bound for Koreatown," L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti said in a statement Monday. "My thoughts and prayers are with the grieving families and friends, and my hopes are for a swift recovery for the many injured."
The approximate location of the crash:
In South Los Angeles and Koreatown, friends and family mourned those who died in Sunday's bus crash. On Monday afternoon, two candles blazed in Zoila Margarita Aguilera’s kitchen in front of a framed photo of her as Employee of the Month. A delivery man dropped off a huge bouquet of white flowers at her home in South L.A.
Aguilera emigrated from El Salvador in 1972 and worked as a caregiver. Once she retired, she spent her time caring for her grandchildren and playing the slot machines.
Aguilera and her friends loved taking buses to casinos on a weekly basis, said her niece, Jacqueline Ochoa.
“On the bus, all the passengers knew each other — maybe not by name, but by face,” Ochoa said. She said the passengers would socialize and share coffee and donuts.
Ochoa said she never worried about her aunt going on these trips.
“Everything was so safe,” Ochoa said. "She was 72 years old, but we said, ‘ You can go by yourself.’ We were confident about the drivers.”
She said her aunt had traveled with the driver before. “I don’t know what happened this time,” she said.
Ochoa described Aguilera as the “anchor” of the family, the one who organized all the holiday celebrations.
“Now we feel that emptiness without her,” Ochoa said. “We don’t want to celebrate anything without her.”
Aracely Tije, 63, also worked as a caregiver. She too traveled almost weekly to the casinos, said Sasha Diaz, who lived with Tije in Glendale for about two years. Diaz recalled that sometimes Tije would win; sometimes she’d lose.
“Most of the time she lost, but she kept going all the time for more,” Diaz said.
In Koreatown, mourners built a makeshift memorial at Olympic and Vermont streets — where the casino tour bus had picked up passengers. Isidora Orellana came to the busy corner Monday morning looking for answers. She was certain that a friend of hers, Dora Galvez de Rodriguez, was among the dead.
“Since yesterday, I’ve been calling her and she doesn’t answer. So I think she died in the accident. This is why we’re here, trying to find out," Orellana said.
As it turned out, Galvez de Rodriguez was among the victims of the crash, according to the Riverside County Coroner's Office. Orellana said her friend had invited her along on the trip to Red Earth Casino near Salton Sea, but she couldn’t afford to go.
Carmen Ongamsing was one of many at the memorial who said they knew the bus owner and driver, Teodulo Elias Vides.
“He used to reserve my seat for me every time. … He was a slow driver, a safe driver, so I don’t know what happened," Ongamsing said.
Vides had been previously cited for traffic violations, but CHP said he had a valid license. He died in the crash.
A negligence lawsuit was filed against Vides after a USA Holiday bus collided with a motor vehicle on the 60 Freeway in Riverside in 2003. The complaint alleges at least two people were injured, but the case was dismissed after a notice of settlement in 2007, court records show.
Eleven of the 13 people killed in a deadly crash with a big rig and a tour bus near Palm Springs Sunday have been identified.
Among the deceased, whose names were released by the Riverside County Coroner’s Bureau Monday morning, was 59-year-old Teodulo Vides, whose name matches the owner of USA Holiday Bus, the Alhambra-based company that operated the tour bus.
The crash occurred early Sunday morning on the westbound I–10 not far from the Indian Canyon exit. The crash left 13 people dead and 31 more injured.
Below are the names of the other people killed in Sunday’s crash that have been identified:
Two of the other victims have yet to be identified.
Four other people were in critical condition Monday. They were among 14 of the most seriously wounded who were brought to Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs. One other patient was in serious condition and one was in fair condition, according to the hospital.
The other nine patients initially treated at the hospital have been released.
Before the crash Sunday, traffic had slowed because of maintenance work, according to the California Highway Patrol.
The CHP said the tour bus was traveling much faster than the truck when it hit it from behind. The trailer was reportedly driven 15 feet into the front of the bus, which is where most of the fatalities occurred.
USA Holiday owns only one vehicle and lists only one driver. A check into the federal database of motor carrier collisions turned up no previous crashes for the bus.
However, many of these tour bus companies operate under lax regulations, as a 2014 KPCC investigation found. Often, when a small bus company gets a citation for safety violations, it will close down and quickly reopen under a new name — although it hasn’t been confirmed whether this was the case for USA Holiday Bus.
Tens of thousands of similar small bus companies operate throughout the nation, and federal authorities have said they don’t have enough inspectors to oversee so many of them.
Tour buses aren't required to have seat belts, but there's a movement to begin installing them, according to Collin Mooney, executive director of the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, who spoke with KPCC's "Take Two."
"I know I have personally been on motor coaches that have already been equipped with such devices, but the older models obviously, there’s a cost to retrofitting any sort of vehicle after that fact, so even though there’s not federal regulation in requiring it at the moment, it is becoming the industry norm," Mooney said.
Investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board will likely be making sure everything on the bus was working properly when it crashed, Mooney said, as well as doing a comprehensive review of the driver's documents such as medical certificates and driver's license. They'll also be checking if the driver was working another job that could have contributed to fatigue.
Survivors of the crash and their family members will be going through a range of different experiences in the coming days, Melissa Brymer, a psychologist at UCLA who specializes in traumatic events and disaster treatment, told KPCC. Some may be facing medical issues or procedures, while others may be dealing with financial hardships and other difficulties after a death of their loved one.
In terms of helping the survivors cope with the tragedy, “it’s an important time not to push things,” Brymer said. “Monitor the amount of sleep they’re going to get or how much they’re eating.”
Since the majority of passengers were sleeping when the bus crashed, the physical feelings they had or sounds they heard were likely the first things that they experienced with the accident — and similar feelings or sounds could cause them to relive the accident as well, Brymer said.
“So there’s ways to help them to think, ‘I’m safe right now,’ and begin to create a coping repertoire to help them with those reminders,” she said.
Investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board were in Palm Springs and planned to hold a press conference to announce the latest updates Monday afternoon.
This story has been updated.