Driver Blamed In Irwindale Tour Bus Crash, Company's Safety Record Questioned
The tour bus company in yesterday's crash that injured 52 out of 55 passengers is, understandably, coming under intense scrutiny today, with eyewitnesses blaming the driver.
Fox 11 reports that the accident on the 210 freeway was the fault of bus driver Jiquan Yang of Alhambra. Witnesses say the driver tried to make a lane change, hit another vehicle, then overcorrected, resulting in the bus veering off the road, crashing through a chainlink fence and flipping onto its side.
The son of one of the passengers told NBC 4 that his mother was worried because the bus was going too fast right before the accident. "She told me that she was talking to the person next to her, the bus was driving a little fast and right after that, the accident happened," Steven Zhang said.
However, California Highway Patrol is not officially blaming the driver at this point. "It's a little early to determine whether it was driver error," said Saul Gomez, a CHP spokesman told NBC 4. "We are worried more about the injured people than the actual investigation itself."
Lt. Mark Garrett of the CHP told NBC that officers would conduct a "very thorough mechanical inspection" of the bus.
The bus driver was properly licensed and has not been charged, but Da Zhen, the Chinese tour bus company that offers day trips to casinos in California and Las Vegas, was cited for three unsafe driving violations since February, according to Fox.
One driver was cited for following too close to another car and two other drivers were cited for speeding. It's not clear if Yang was the driver in those instances.
According to NBC 4 in San Diego, Da Zhen was on "alert status" because of those violations.
"It's a poor safety record," Paul Hedlund, an engineer and lawyer who litigates transportation accidents, told NBC. "It's not horrible, but it should be better. There's no excuse for a tour bus speeding like this."
In the "Unsafe Driving" category, the feds gave Da Zhen a score of 56.3 percent, meaning that the company is worse than the majority of other tour bus operators. If a company scores over 50 percent in that category, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration puts them on "Alert Status," according to NBC.
Da Zhen is headquartered in Monterey Park; according to federal department of transportation records, nine buses and nine drivers are licensed with the company. According to NBC, Da Zhen has had 28 inspections in the last two years, with 25 reported violations. In two cases in 2012, the company's buses were put out of service.
All their drivers passed fitness inspections, including drug and alcohol tests, but NBC reports that in 2012, a driver was cited for "falsely reporting driver's record of duty status."
Fortunately, most of the injuries suffered by passengers in yesterday's crash were minor. Only a few of the riders, who were all aged 60 to 80, suffered major trauma, according to NBC.
By last night, five victims remained in the hospital, including an 86-year-old man with broken ribs who had complained of chest pain.
The crash shut down the 210 for hours, causing a major traffic backup.