One woman is dead and 26 people were injured after a California charter bus traveling through the Mojave Desert crossed the centerline and crashed into two passenger vehicles. The Kramer Junction bus crash, which took place shortly after noon on February 27, 2017, left debris and demolished vehicles scattered across Highway 58 and sent scores of emergency responders to the scene to assist. As more tour buses are involved in serious crashes, the causes of tour bus crashes are becoming a concern for safety advocates.
Investigators Uncertain Why California Tour Bus Went into Oncoming Traffic
The tour bus, with the label “U-best Holiday” on the side, was traveling east on Highway 58 about 2 miles east of Highway 395 with 26 passengers on board when the crash took place. It was then, at approximately 12:03 p.m., witnesses say, that the charter bus crossed the centerline into the westbound lanes and collided head-on with a Subaru Outback and a Chevrolet Spark.
California Highway Patrol (CHP) Lt. Tony Pena responded to the scene and said CHP does not know why the charter bus driver veered into oncoming traffic, though he did say that investigators do not believe, based on initial information, that speed, drugs, alcohol or weather were factors. Other CHP officers echoed Pena’s statement on the unknown motive of the lane change.
The impact from the crash caused all three vehicles involved to roll over at least once, according to San Bernardino County Fire, and segments were smashed and/or ripped off each vehicle.
Photos show the front of the tour bus nearly nonexistent and many of its windows empty of glass as it sits upright following its roll. In the same pictures, the roof of the Subaru Outback is shown almost entirely separated from the car, with its contents sprawling out onto the dirt. The Chevrolet is pictured missing most of its side panel and its front end is crumpled.
One Fatality and Numerous Injuries After Kramer Junction Bus Crash
Following calls just after noon describing an accident involving a bus and two other vehicles, firefighters arrived on the scene to find both a fatality and dozens of injuries, as well as passengers trapped inside vehicles.
The driver of the Subaru sustained major injuries during the Kramer junction bus crash and was pronounced dead at the scene. She has since been identified by county coroner’s officials as 55-year-old Kristina Carey, a resident of San Rafael.
In their initial assessment of the scene, San Bernardino County firefighters determined passengers had suffered a range of life-threatening and non-life-threatening injuries that would require hospitalization. All of the tour bus passengers sustained injuries, though some were minor, and the two people traveling in the Chevrolet Spark were both hospitalized in critical condition.
“With the first priority of triaging the victims to get an accurate patient count, firefighters ultimately determined that nine patients were classified as immediate, or having life-threatening injuries; seventeen patients were Delayed, suffering from non-life-threatening injuries, and one patient was deceased,” San Bernardino County Fire wrote on its Facebook page.
Weather Conditions Prevented Helicopter Response
Given the remote location of the Kramer Junction bus crash—in a quiet stretch between Barstow and Mojave—first responders would generally use helicopters to transport the injured to regional trauma centers, and six helicopters were initially requested. Winds of up to 20 miles per hour and gusts of up to 30 miles per hour, however, made helicopter rescue impossible.
Instead, San Bernardino County firefighters went to work freeing victims who were trapped in vehicles and treating passengers at the scene, while fourteen ambulances were called to transport people to local hospitals. Kern County Fire Department, Marine Corps Logistics Base Fire, Naval Weapons Center—China Lake Fire Department, and the National Training Center—Fort Irwin all provided their assistance. The highway was closed in both directions while response efforts were underway and then one lane was opened for alternating traffic.
Bus accidents in San Bernardino County are always initially identified as first-alarm mass casualty incidents, but the fatality and many injuries in the Kramer Junction bus crash led officials to promote the accident to a 2-Alarm Mass Casualty Incident.
A&F Tour Bus Company Not Responding After Crash
A&F Tours Inc., based out of Arcadia, California, owns the 2007 Chevrolet Starcraft bus that was involved in the accident. The bus was traveling from Fresno, California, to Las Vegas, Nevada, when the crash took place, and though it seats about 30 people, had 26 passengers on board.
There are no websites for A&F Tours Inc. or “U-best Holiday” and the company has not responded to requests for comment on the incident.
U.S. Department of Transportation documents shows, however, that A&F Tours Inc. has had 22 vehicle inspections in the last two years, and that a vehicle was taken out of service following one of those inspections. No crashes were reported for the same time frame.
California Bus Accident Investigation Ongoing
The Kramer Junction bus crash will now be investigated by the CHP’s Multidisciplinary Accident Investigation Team (MAIT) and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, who will participate in a post-crash assessment and will examine the vehicle as well as A&F Tours Inc.’s safety record.
Charter Buses Source of Safety Concerns
Some lawmakers have been seeking bus safety upgrades following several tour bus crashes with multiple fatalities. Safety improvements would include requiring seatbelts in all buses, not just new over-the-road buses, as well as fire-resistant seating and lighted aisles that illuminate in the event of an emergency.