6 die, 20 hurt in Greyhound crash in Fresno

A crash involving a Greyhound bus en route from Los Angeles to Sacramento killed six people and injured 20 others, according to the California Highway Patrol.

The deadly sequence of events began shortly before 2 a.m. Thursday as three young women in a dark-blue Chevrolet Trailblazer were traveling north on California Highway 99 in Fresno.

The Trailblazer made a sharp left turn from the right-hand lane, struck the median rail, rolled over and blocked the fast lane, said CHP Central Division Chief Jim Abrames.

All three women -- Stephenie Cordoba, 20, and Vanessa Gonzalez, 19, both of Fresno, and Sylvia Lopez Garay, 18, of Dinuba, Calif. -- were killed.

About the same time, a Greyhound bus had left the Fresno bus station and headed up California 99. Authorities suspect that the driver could not see the dark, overturned Trailblazer, which probably didn't have its lights on.

The bus, carrying 36 people, hit the Trailblazer, careened to the east and clipped a Honda CR-V, authorities said.

All three vehicles went off the highway and down a 15-foot embankment, according to the California Highway Patrol. The bus crashed into a eucalyptus tree, knocking the tree over and leaving limbs sticking from gaping holes in the bus.

"I had just woke up and I heard a boom once, and a boom again and the next thing I know we were down this embankment," Linda Gee, a passenger on the bus, told KMPH-TV in Fresno.

The crash pushed the front end of the bus into the driver's seat, killing James Jewett, 57, of Sacramento, a Greyhound driver for 32 years with a clean record. Two of the bus passengers, Epifania Solis, 60, of Madera, Calif., and Tomas Ponce, 79, of Winton, Calif., also died. The driver of the CR-V was injured.

The collision broke the bus into pieces and left twisted metal and bloody clothes strewn around the ground. By Thursday afternoon, authorities were dismantling and cleaning up the pieces of the bus and vehicles.

Ponce and his wife, Sinforosa Arreola Ponce, 77, were traveling home from Mexico to the small town of Winton, outside Merced. The couple divide their time between Mexico and Winton and have eight children and 27 grandchildren. Sinforosa is in critical condition with multiple fractures and was in surgery late Thursday.

The couple's granddaughter, Yuridia Hampton, 27, said they had been married for more than 50 years. She said her grandmother doesn't know that her husband is dead yet. "We want her to keep fighting to live," Hampton said. "We are praying for the best."

Abrames said the CHP investigation will include re-creating the last 24 hours in the lives of the drivers involved in the crash.

"We need to know their state of mind, their alertness," he said. "Right now, all of our evidence starts in the fast lane."

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news.metro@latimes.com Times staff writer Anna Gorman contributed to this report.

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