13 Dead in California Tour Bus Crash

desert hot springs tour bus (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

DESERT HOT SPRINGS, Calif. — A holiday tour bus slammed into the rear end of a tractor-trailer early Sunday morning. The collision killed 13 passengers, including the driver, and injured 31 more.

Passengers on the tour bus, operated by USA Holiday, had spent the evening at Red Earth Casino near the Salton Sea. They were on their way home on the 10 Freeway to Los Angeles when the crash occurred. Just before dawn, the bus smashed into the truck’s trailer, crushing the front third of the vehicle.

“The speed of the bus was significant that when it hit the back of the big rig… the trailer itself entered about 15 feet into the bus.” California Highway Patrol division Chief Jim Abele clarified in a press conference.

Abele stated authorities are still investigating why the tour bus was traveling at such a greater speed than the truck.  They have yet to determine whether drugs, alcohol, or fatigue played a role in the driver’s failure to avoid or otherwise lessen the severity of the collision. Unfortunately, those answers may be long in coming as the bus, manufactured in 1996, likely did not have a data recorder on board. This technology, standard in newer vehicles, would have recorded the driver’s speed and other data at the time of impact.

“Essentially, we just don’t have all the pieces to the puzzle,” Abele admitted. “We may not be able to determine exactly why the accident occurred because the driver has been killed.”

Survivors of the collision were taken to three hospitals based on triage. Desert Regional Medical Center, the Coachella Valley’s only trauma center, received 14 adult patients. Five of these patients are in critical condition. Two other hospitals received 16 adult patients with reportedly more minor injuries.

The alarming amount of tour bus crashes in California raises questions about their oversight. In August of this year, four people died and two dozen others injured when their tour bus collided with a sign pole in Merced County. Two years ago, another bus crashed on California’s I-10 after a tractor-trailer spilled a load of steel pipes onto the freeway. Four people died when the bus swerved and overturned in the driver’s attempt to dodge the catastrophe.

These and similar crashes have inspired special California bus-based laws. This includes provisions for the CHP to increase the amount of tour bus inspections they perform each year and for enhanced safety equipment in buses manufactured post-2020.