The company involved in the Interstate 10 bus crash in Blythe that left four dead and dozens injured has had no significant safety violations or vehicle maintenance issues in at least the last two years, according to federal records.
El Paso–Los Angeles Limousine Express Inc. , a low-cost transportation company that’s been operating across the Southwest since 1966, is in the top third of its class of transportation companies when it comes to its driving, safety and inspection record, according to data from the Department of Transportation.
The company has 55 buses with 70 drivers, according to government filings. Of the 433 inspections undergone by the drivers and vehicles in the last two years, the company has been in compliance every time, records show. Its fleet has been involved in just five crashes over the same period.
The bus involved in Wednesday's crash was heading to Los Angeles from El Paso at the time, but had first stopped in Phoenix, where a new driver took over, authorities said. The crash occurred about 2:15 a.m. when an eastbound big rig on Interstate 10 near U.S. Highway 95 jackknifed and spilled its cargo of steel pipes onto the highway.
The crash happened in three phases, said Caltrans spokeswoman Shelli Lombardo.
About 2:15 a.m., the tractor-trailer in the center lane moved to pass a slower vehicle by changing into the fast lane. As the trailer passed, it struck the center divider and jackknifed, spilling the pipes across both sides of the highway.
“They’re all over the highway, I can't even begin to count,” she said.
The car that was being passed by the trailer hit some of the pipes and lost control, Lombardo said.
About a minute later, a Chevy Suburban also headed east struck the pipes and crashed. Soon after, the bus on the opposite side crashed, she said, rolling off the freeway shoulder and into the dirt, coming to rest about 50 feet off the road.
The bus was carrying 34 people, Lombardo said. Four of them died and the rest were taken to regional hospitals with various degrees of injury. At least six of those patients had to be airlifted, authorities said.
The Riverside County coroner has yet to identify the victims.
Robert Aguilar, 52, of Ventura was a regular El Paso bus rider for 10 years, but recently decided to change services to El Paisanos transit company.
The buses, he said, were growing old and safety had become a concern for him.
Aguilar happened to be riding a bus from El Paso, where he visited his fiance, and was headed along a similar route.
While his bus stopped in Arizona, the El Paso bus, which had been behind him, continued traveling.
An hour later, his bus would soon come across the crash scene. A swarm of patrol cars and helicopters converged at the accident scene, Aguilar said.
"It could have happened to us," he said. "Whenever this happens it makes you think nothing is safe."
The interstate was expected to be closed in both directions until at least noon, officials said. The eastbound lanes could be open by the evening commute, according to Caltrans.