Four people were killed early Tuesday morning when a tour bus crashed into a sign pole on Highway 99 just outside of Livingston, California. The Highway 99 tour bus crash occurred at around 3:25 a.m. near the Liberty Avenue off ramp. No other vehicles were involved in the early morning wreck.

According to the California Highway Patrol, the tour bus was northbound when it swerved off the highway for unknown reasons and crashed into the sign pole, which sheered straight through the bus. About 30 passengers were aboard the bus at the time. Authorities initially reported the death toll at five in the aftermath of the wreck, only to reduce it to four on Wednesday.

Pictures of the Highway 99 tour bus crash show the sign pole sticking out from the middle of the vehicle, towards the rear. The pole nearly sliced the bus clear in half from front to back, stopping at the first rear axle after severe impact.

California Highway Patrol officer Moises Onsurez said passengers who sustained the worst injuries were seated near the center of the bus, where the sign pole violently tore through the vehicle.

Emergency responders arrived at the scene to find victims still trapped in the wreckage. Some who were ejected from the tour bus were lying motionless in a roadside ditch. Debris from the bus, including blankets, seat cushions and drink containers, were strewn across the highway in what CHP officer Onsurez called a “tragic scene.”

Five people were pronounced dead at the scene and five others were airlifted with severe injuries. Multiple reports have mentioned that some victims lost limbs in the Highway 99 tour bus crash. At least 18 people reported injuries in the Highway 99 tour bus crash. The few aboard the bus who did not sustain injuries were taken to a California Highway Patrol office in Merced.

Bus passenger Leonardo Sanchez of Arvin, California was one of the few who managed to avoid serious injury. On his way to Oregon to pick blueberries, Sanchez was fast asleep when the Highway 99 tour bus crash happened. He remembers waking up to chaos as his fellow passengers seated around him were screaming and crying. Some remained trapped after the crash, many were calling out for assistance.

“We couldn’t pull everyone out because there was shattered glass everywhere, seats destroyed,” Sanchez said. He was one of about eight passengers who escaped the crash relatively unscathed.

The bus driver has been identified as 57-year-old Los Angeles resident Mario David Vasquez. California Highway Patrol officials are hoping to interview Vasquez in the coming days. According to the Seattle Times, he suffered extensive injuries in the Highway 99 tour bus crash.

Nakia Coleman, who was travelling from Mexico to her home in Pasco, was able to recall the moments prior to the Highway 99 tour bus crash. According to Coleman, it appeared that the bus driver was attempting to pass another vehicle, expecting it to yield, but it wouldn’t let the bus merge. “It kind of ran him off the road,” Coleman said.

Highway 99 Tour Bus Crash Investigation

While an investigation into the cause of the Highway 99 tour bus crash is in the early stages, officials have released some background information on the accident.

Authorities have indicated that the bus was registered to Autobuses Coordinados USA, a Fresno-based operator. The Autobuses Coordinados bus departed from Mexico on Monday, bound for Pasco, Washington. The trip itinerary shows the bus making several stops, including one scheduled stop in Los Angeles on Monday night.

The bus was scheduled to make another stop in Livingston at 1:30 a.m. to change drivers. It was running behind schedule, as the crash happened at around 3:25 a.m., only a few miles from the scheduled stop.

The Highway 99 tour bus crash investigation will look into several factors, most notably, the actions and training of the driver, prevailing road and weather conditions at the time of the crash, and bus maintenance records.

According to records from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), 26 company-wide inspections on Autobuses Coordinados USA found 44 maintenance violations. The bus that was involved in the Highway 99 tour bus crash was cited on April 28, 2016 for three violations, including a defective (or lack of) brake warning device; prohibited, non-automatically folding seats in the aisle; and an FMCSA instruction to inspect or repair parts or accessories. In a February 5, 2015 inspection, the wrecked bus was found to have inoperative required lamps and a damaged or discolored windshield.

California Lawmakers Press for Better Bus Passenger Safety Regulations

California State Senator Ricardo Lara introduced Senate Bill 247 last year in response to a 2014 bus crash in Orland that left 10 people dead. The bus safety regulation calls for major safety upgrades to chartered tour buses, including fire-resistant seating and lighted aisles that illuminate in the event of an emergency.

The bill would also require an event data recorder, and a second emergency exit door for buses built after 2020. Another requirement is a safety briefing by the driver before each trip, similar to that of a flight attendant on a commercial plane. The briefing would include safety procedures in the event of an emergency as well as pointing out to passengers where the emergency exits are located on the vehicle.

In a statement following the Highway 99 tour bus crash, State Senator Lara said the tragedy is proof again that the state needs to update its bus safety standards and protect the lives of bus travelers in California. His sentiment was echoed by the bus accident attorneys of Baum Hedlund, who represent a number of victims from the 2014 Orland bus crash.

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