Tour bus involved in fatal crash was out of compliance with safety standards; 13th fatality identified

File: Workers prepare to haul away a tour bus that crashed with semi-truck on Interstate 10 just west of the Indian Canyon Drive off-ramp, in Desert Hot Springs, near Palm Springs, Calif., Sunday, Oct. 23, 2016.
File: Workers prepare to haul away a tour bus that crashed with semi-truck on Interstate 10 just west of the Indian Canyon Drive off-ramp, in Desert Hot Springs, near Palm Springs, Calif., Sunday, Oct. 23, 2016.
Rodrigo Pena/AP

The gambling tour bus that crashed Sunday morning, leaving 13 dead and injuring 31, was out of compliance with safety standards, officials said Tuesday.  

The vehicle had four tires that didn't meet the minimum recommended tread depth, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.

"Based on the tire conditions, this vehicle was out of compliance with Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance inspection criteria," the NTSB's Earl Weener said at an afternoon press conference, "and could have been placed out of service."

Also Tuesday, the California Highway Patrol identified the 13th fatality in the crash — 50-year-old Tony Mai of Los Angeles.

Early Sunday morning, the bus slammed into the rear of a truck that was creeping along at 5 mph because of utility work. The crash on Interstate 10 near Palm Springs was one of California's deadliest vehicle crashes.

Driver's daughter, friends remember him as hardworking

Julie Vides, 37-year-old-daughter of bus owner and driver Teodulo Elias Vides, spoke briefly with KPCC at her father’s Alhambra apartment on Tuesday. A bouquet of white flowers and votive candles had been placed on the doorstep.

"He's just been a very hard working man, you know, very responsible father,” she said. “We're just devastated with all this."
She would not say if anyone else from the family was involved in the crash and she declined to answer other questions.

A woman who knew him told the Associated Press that Vides used to joke with customers and playfully urged them to save enough money for hamburgers. He told customers in Spanish as they returned to Los Angeles at sunrise from their weekend jaunts, "We've arrived at reality."

Alba Martinez, 43, once asked Vides why he joked with his customers and he replied: "It's so they have some fun." Martinez spoke with The Associated Press on Tuesday.

Martinez's friend, Dora Galvez de Rodriguez, and the 59-year-old bus driver were among the dead. Vides owned USA Holiday and was listed as the only driver, according to federal and state records.

A history of citations, lawsuits

Public records show Vides accumulated several traffic citations, the most serious in Riverside County. He was cited there for speeding in 2005, and for having an open container of alcohol and starting the vehicle in an unsafe manner in a highway in 2007. He faced an unspecified misdemeanor count in Riverside in 2011 and another in 2002.
In Santa Barbara County, he was cited for minor violations in February, October and November 2011. In 2000, San Bernardino County cited him for inoperable lights.
Court records show he also was the subject of lawsuits, including one alleging negligence after a USA Holiday bus collided with a motor vehicle on the 60 freeway in Riverside in 2003. The complaint claims at least two people were injured. The case was dismissed after a notice of settlement in 2007.

Inspection records kept by the CHP also show the company he owned, USA Holiday, was deemed unsatisfactory on several levels, though it had not received that rating since 2010. In that year, the company's unnamed driver received an "unsatisfactory" rating both overall and in relation to "controlled substance and alcohol testing results."

The Associated Press reports that before 2010, USA Holiday had periodic unsatisfactory ratings for, among other things, maintenance and equipment.

'No indication whatsoever' driver applied brakes

The cause of Sunday's crash is undetermined. The National Transportation Safety Board planned to look into the history of the bus, its owner-driver and other circumstances, such as what he was doing during the four to five hours the bus was at the Red Earth Casino in the desert town of Thermal before making the 135-mile trip back to Los Angeles.

"There's no indication whatsoever that the driver applied the brakes," CHP Border Division Chief Jim Abele said Monday, citing the power of the impact and the fact that no skid marks were found.

"They just kept pulling bodies stuck in between the seats," Abele said. "It's just due to this bus going so fast into the back of the truck. Why he did that, that's what we're trying to find out."

Ana Car, 61, didn't remember the sudden impact, only that she woke up in a dark bus filled with screams of terror and agony. The retired factory worker told the Associated Press she spent the evening gambling and was sound asleep when the bus crashed.

"I can't believe how many died," she said, sobbing Monday as she recovered from bumps, bruises and a sore back. "It was so horrible. These images are going to stay in my head for life."

Car was sitting toward the back of the bus when it rammed the truck. She awoke to find herself standing amid bodies flung everywhere. Those who could move were pushing and shoving in the pre-dawn darkness to climb out from under each other.

She clambered to a broken window to yell for help, panicked she would be trapped if the bus caught fire. Motorists who stopped to help pulled her out.

"I couldn't stand when they got me out," Car told the AP. "I sat on the side of the road, watching them pull so many people out. I saw so much blood and two dead bodies. I was so scared."

Vides had a valid commercial license and a clean record in recent years. The bus had passed annual inspections.

USA Holiday was licensed to travel between states, which subjected Vides to federal limits on driver work hours. Under the scenario officials described — leaving Los Angeles at 8 p.m. and returning less than 12 hours later — Vides would have been within those limits, which cap driving time to 10 hours within a 15-hour span and do not prescribe specific rest requirements.

A call to the company was not returned.

This story has been updated.