The families of two men killed in the Palm Springs tour bus crash on October 23, 2016, have filed wrongful death lawsuits against the bus company and the estate of the driver, 59-year-old Teodulo Vides, who died in the accident.
Thirteen people were killed and 31 others sustained injuries in the crash near Palm Springs. The USA Holiday bus was taking passengers back to Los Angeles after a night at a Salton Sea casino when it viciously rear-ended a big rig on the westbound side of Interstate 10 near the exit for Indian Canyon Drive. Law enforcement officials at the scene could not find any evidence that the bus driver hit the brakes before the accident.
The bus crash lawsuit, which is the first stemming from last Sunday’s fatal accident, was filed by the families of Tony Mai and Gustavo Garcia Green. According to the allegations, Mr. Vides failed to drive the USA Holiday tour bus at a safe speed and failed to brake in order to avoid the collision with a big rig. The lawsuit also claims that the USA Holiday tour bus was not properly maintained.
According to officials from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the tour bus was not in compliance with motorcoach safety standards because some of the tire treads were worn beyond what is considered safe.
Both men were among dozens of passengers who took the tour bus from Los Angeles to Red Earth Casino in Thermal. Previous USA Holiday trips offered $20 rides to the casino, where passengers could gamble for over four hours into the early hours of the morning, then return back to LA.
Mr. Green, 62, was a mechanic from Guatemala. Lester Garcia, one of Mr. Green’s 10 children, said his father enjoyed gambling at casinos. The same can be said for Mr. Mai, who also worked as a mechanic. Gambling excursions brought him together with his girlfriend, Francisca Escobar, who wanted to accompany him to Red Earth. Mr. Mai asked her to stay home, which may have saved her life.
“I was so upset with him,” Escobar told the Los Angeles Times. “I can’t imagine now. We both would have died.”
What Do We Know About USA Holiday Tour Bus Driver Teodulo Vides?
The tour bus crash near Palm Springs, which is the deadliest the state of California has seen in decades, has placed focus on the USA Holiday driver, 59-year-old Teodulo Vides. Mr. Vides was the owner of USA Holiday, and at the time of the Palm Springs crash, the company’s only driver.
Investigators found no evidence that Mr. Vides used his brakes before colliding with the trailer section of the big rig, leading some speculation that he may have been distracted behind the wheel, or perhaps fatigued.
According to various reports, Mr. Vides USA Holiday was sued twice for negligence after crashes with other vehicles in 2007 and 2003.
In 2007, a USA Holiday bus collided with a Honda Civic on the 215 freeway in Riverside, killing the driver of the car, Sylvia Saucedo, and her two passengers, Maria Llamas and Julio Morales. Llamas’ family filed a bus crash lawsuit against Mr. Vides and USA Holiday bus driver, Paulino Camacho Ceballos, alleging negligence.
In 2003, Mr. Vides and Mr. Ceballos faced a similar bus crash lawsuit after a USA Holiday bus slammed into a passenger vehicle on the 60 Freeway in Riverside. The lawsuit, which claimed the bus was negligently operated and responsible for the accident, was settled for an undisclosed amount.
Aside from the accidents, Mr. Vides had been cited on a number of occasions for unsafe driving. In 2005, he was issued a citation for speeding above the 70 miles-per-hour speed limit on the eastbound side of Interstate 10. In 2007, the California Public Utilities Commission issued Vides a citation for driving with an expired permit.
Mr. Vides was again pulled over on Interstate 10 in 2011, where he was issued a citation for speeding and driving with a suspended license. The same year, he was cited twice in Santa Barbara County for lane straddling.
According to media reports, USA Holiday received “unsatisfactory” ratings from the California Highway Patrol on six different occasions. The company received the ratings in 2005 and 2010 after inspections for controlled substances and alcohol testing requirements. The four other “unsatisfactory” ratings stemmed from maintenance, driver, terminal, and equipment inspections.
“Unsatisfactory” ratings can be given for a number of reasons. Generally, bus operators are provided with an opportunity to correct safety compliance issues. If operators fail to do so, the California Highway Patrol may recommend further action to the Public Utilities Commission.