- Associated Press - Monday, February 4, 2013

YUCAIPA, Calif. (AP) — A runaway bus careened down a mountain road without brakes and the driver called out to passengers to phone 911 before a violent crash with two other vehicles that killed eight people and injured dozens of others, a surviving passenger said Monday.

However, the pleas by the driver were futile because no one had cellphone reception in the rugged area, passenger Gerardo Barrientos, 28, told The Associated Press.

The bus was carrying a group from Tijuana, Mexico, and heading home from a snow trip to the Big Bear Lake area of the San Bernardino Mountains 80 miles east of Los Angeles when it crashed into a sedan and pickup truck around 6:30 p.m. Sunday.

The cause of the crash remained under investigation.


Records showed the company that operated the bus had failed more than a third of federal vehicle safety inspections in the past two years.

Mr. Barrientos and girlfriend Lluvia Ramirez, who both work at a government hospital in Tijuana, spoke to the AP as they waited outside an emergency room at Loma Linda University Medical Center for word on a friend who suffered a broken neck.

Mr. Barrientos believed the bus reached speeds of 60 mph during the descent down the mountain that he estimated lasted five minutes before the collision.

“I saw many people dead. There are very, very horrendous images in my head, things I don’t want to think about,” he said.

Mr. Barrientos said he was uninjured and immediately began searching for Miss Ramirez and the other friend, who were both ejected. After he moved them away from the bus to safety, he assisted the bus driver.

Miss Ramirez suffered bruises and a hairline vertebra fracture.

“I was overwhelmed,” she said. “I’m a surgical resident, and I usually know how to react, but I was so in shock I didn’t know what to do. I just stayed with my friend.”

The crash left State Route 38 littered with body parts and debris, and the bus sideways across both lanes with its windows blown out, front end crushed and part of the roof peeled back like a tin can.

The accident occurred when the speeding bus rear-ended a Saturn sedan, flipped and hit a Ford pickup truck, said California Highway Patrol spokesman Mario Lopez.

Investigators will determine if mechanical failure or driver error was to blame. The bus driver, who survived but was injured, told investigators the vehicle had brake problems.

“It appears speed was a factor in this collision,” Mr. Lopez said.

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