The bus driver involved in the fatal Merced County, California, bus crash last year faces criminal charges related to his actions, authorities announced. The crash occurred on August 2, 2016, and took the lives of four people, seriously injuring another five. Among the charges filed against the bus driver are vehicular manslaughter and misdemeanor vehicle code violations. The crash is among the deadly bus accidents that have renewed the focus on charter bus safety.
Autobuses Coordinados Bus Driver Allegedly Falsified Records
The Livingston bus crash charges include four counts of vehicular manslaughter and an additional five counts of misdemeanor vehicle code violations related to the tragedy. According to the California Highway Patrol, 58-year-old Mario David Vasquez used his cellphone repeatedly while driving, even a few minutes before the accident, although he was not using his phone when the accident occurred.
Additionally, even though Vasquez’s logbook indicated he slept for six and a half hours the night before the accident, cellphone records suggested he slept less than that. Bus passengers said Vasquez appeared tired and other motorists reported the bus was weaving through traffic in the moments leading up to the crash.
Vasquez allegedly falsified his daily log book to indicate he slept more hours than he did and violated laws regarding maximum time commercial drivers can spend behind the wheel, leading to the misdemeanor charges.
“Mr. Vasquez’s extreme fatigue, violations of commercial regulations and repeated use of a cellphone while entrusted with the care of passengers demonstrated a gross dereliction of the duty owed not just to his passengers, but to every motorist on Highway 99 that morning,” Merced County District Attorney Larry D. Morse II said.
Prior to the catastrophic accident, Vasquez had logged 30 years of bus driving experience. Meanwhile, the bus involved in the crash received seven citations in the two years leading up to the accident, including problems with the brake-warning device and maintenance issues.
Livingston Bus Crash Killed Four
The fatal bus accident occurred in the early morning hours of August 2, 2016, as a tour bus carrying approximately 30 passengers traveled northbound along Highway 99 outside Livingston, California. At around 3:25 a.m., as it approached Livingston, the bus swerved off the road and crashed into a pole. The pole sliced through the bus, almost cutting it in half from front to back. Some passengers were ejected from the bus while others were left trapped for emergency responders to rescue.
The bus, which was operated by Autobuses Coordinados USA, was on its way to Washington State and was reportedly behind schedule. Vasquez was supposed to switch with another driver in Livingston at 1:30 a.m., but by 3:25 a.m. still had not reached his destination. His shift had started at around 7:30 p.m.
Survivors of the Livingston bus crash described a scene of chaos as debris was strewn across the road and those who were injured screamed in pain.
“It was too much,” said Leonardo Sanchez, who was on his way to Oregon when the crash occurred. “It was a very ugly accident. Thanks [sic] to God that I got out of there alive.”
Victims of the Highway 99 Bus Crash
Killed in the bus crash were Jose Morales Bravo, 68, Jaime De Los Santos, 38, Fernando Ramirez, 57, and Petra Carillo Ruiz, 64.
Among the injured were passengers who required amputations and some who suffered broken bones. Vasquez was among the survivors who suffered serious injuries. He will reportedly be arraigned in Merced Superior Court on August 30.
Recent California Bus Crashes Renew Calls for Safety
Following multiple tragic bus crashes, California State Senator Ricardo Lara introduced Senate Bill 247, which was designed to improve safety on charter buses. After the Livingston bus crash, he reconfirmed his support of the bill noting the importance of updating safety standards and protecting the lives of bus passengers in California.
The bill, which was approved by California’s governor on September 27, 2016, cites the April 10, 2014 Orland California bus crash that killed eight passengers and the driver. It requires buses manufactured after July 1, 2020, to be equipped with emergency lighting fixtures that turn on in the event of a crash.
“These improvements would significantly increase passenger safety and would reduce or prevent future deaths in traffic collisions involving charter buses,” the bill states.
It is not clear whether the safety upgrades required by Bill 247 would have helped the victims of the Merced County bus crash. Bus safety advocates have called for additional upgrades, including proper restraints on all charter buses.