Three people were killed and 18 injured Saturday morning when a charter bus veered off rain-slicked Interstate 15 and rolled down an embankment in north San Diego County, authorities said.
The bus, carrying a mix of adults and children, had departed from the Los Angeles area and was headed to San Ysidro, with a final stop planned in Tijuana, said California Highway Patrol Officer Mark Latulippe.
It was raining about 10:20 a.m. when the bus driver swerved and lost control in the southbound lanes of the freeway, just south of State Route 76. The vehicle slid down an embankment and landed on its roof, Latulippe said.
Several victims were ejected from the wreckage, while others were trapped inside. Some were able to crawl out on their own, authorities said.
One woman who died was pinned under the bus, and it took several hours for crews to recover her body. The two other fatalities, also women, were pulled from inside the bus during the initial rescue effort but were pronounced dead at the scene, Latulippe said.
They had not yet been identified as of Saturday evening.
Eighteen others were taken to hospitals — Palomar Medical Center, Temecula Valley Hospital and Inland Valley Medical Center, said North County Fire Protection District Fire Chief Stephen Abbott.
A 5-year-old boy was in critical condition with a head injury, while three other passengers suffered major injuries, Latulippe said.
The bus driver, a man from Whittier, suffered minor injuries and initially remained at the scene, Latulippe said. He was later taken to a station for questioning.
The driver, whose name was not released, voluntarily submitted a blood sample, which is standard in such investigations. However, drugs and alcohol are not suspected of being a factor in the crash, authorities said.
Latulippe said it is too early to determine how much the weather played a role.
The charter is owned by Executive Lines, a company based east of Los Angeles. The company runs a regular route from Baldwin Park through the Inland Empire to San Ysidro, according to its website.
The business did not return a phone call or email seeking comment Saturday.
The charter’s final destination was Tijuana, with many of the passengers bringing along luggage for the trip, Latulippe said. Much of that luggage was scattered along the roadside in the aftermath.
Authorities said that the bus was equipped with seat belts but that they were not used by most of the passengers.
The wreckage was precariously perched on a hill made slippery by wet grass and mud. It took several hours for crews to tip the bus to recover the deceased victim pinned underneath. The bus was then hauled up the embankment by a heavy-duty tow truck around 6 p.m.
The bus was towed to a CHP evidence yard, where it will be examined for possible mechanical failures such as steering and braking issues, Latulippe said. Investigators will also determine if the bus adhered to safety regulations required of charter companies.
Diehl and Davis write for the San Diego Union-Tribune. Union-Tribune staff writer Greg Moran contributed to this report.