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Tour bus in crash that killed 13 did not comply with safety standards, officials say

The tread on the front tire is visibly thin and cracked on the tour bus.
The tread on the front tire of a tour bus involved in a deadly crash is visibly thin and cracked.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

A tour bus that crashed in Desert Hot Springs, killing 13 people and injuring many others, did not comply with vehicle safety standards because two of its eight tires lacked sufficient tread, federal officials said Tuesday.

Officials released the findings following a preliminary examination of the body and wheels of the motor coach, Earl F. Weener, a member of the National Transportation Safety Board, said. 

The tires were from various manufacturers and did not meet Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance inspection criteria.

The USA Holiday bus had been returning to Los Angeles from Red Earth Casino near the Salton Sea when it collided Sunday with a big rig traveling on Interstate 10. The crash was the deadliest in the state in several decades. 

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The bus, a 1996 model manufactured by Motor Coach Industries, had no seat belts and did not appear to brake before the collision. An additional 31 people were injured, including the driver of the big rig. He was identified as Bruce Guilford, 50, of Covington, Ga.

According to Weener, both steer axle tires were below the requirements for minimum tire tread depth, which is 4/32 of an inch.

Their condition would have been cause to take the bus out of service, as steer axle tires are critical to controlling a vehicle.

Weener said the bus was equipped with a new engine in 2005, which means it is likely that the engine’s electronic control module has an event data recorder function. Such a device could provide information about how the vehicle was functioning, including its potential speed, the position of the accelerator pedal and even whether the brakes were applied. 

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Officials said the bus had been inspected by the California Highway Patrol in April and was rated “satisfactory” at the time.

The tires were apparently fine during that inspection, CHP Capt. Laura Quattlebaum said.

“Our people would have caught that,” she said.

“Unfortunately the responsibility of the condition of the bus is under the owner,” Quattlebaum added.

Federal officials noted that their investigation is in the very early stages and there is still much to examine in determining the cause of the crash, such as road conditions and lighting.

Investigators are probing the histories of both drivers and will next take a closer look at the interior of the bus. The process of collecting and analyzing evidence could take as long as a year, officials said.

The driver and owner of the bus, Teodulo Elias Vides, was among the deceased.

Records show that Vides, 59, had been sued twice for negligence and had a spotty safety record. 

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In 2007, three people were killed after a USA Holiday bus crashed into a Honda Civic on the northbound 215 Freeway in Riverside.

Relatives of the deceased sued the bus driver, Paulino Camacho Ceballos, Vides and his Alhambra-based company. According to federal records, USA Holiday owns one bus and employs one driver.

Attorneys for Vides argued that it was the Honda driver who lost control. The case appears to have been dismissed after the plaintiffs failed to respond to discovery requests.

Vides faced a similar lawsuit in 2004 when a USA Holiday bus driven by Ceballos collided with a car on the westbound 60 Freeway in Riverside a year earlier. The parties eventually reached a settlement that was not disclosed in court documents.

USA Holiday received at least six “unsatisfactory” ratings from the California Highway Patrol, two of which were after inspections for controlled substances and alcohol testing requirements, according to the agency’s online database.

Vides had also been cited in several counties for traffic violations, as well as by the California Public Utilities Commission in 2007 for operating with an expired permit.

 

 

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paloma.esquivel@latimes.com

corina.knoll@latimes.com

Twitter: @palomaesquivel @corinaknoll

Times staff writer Ralph Vartabedian contributed to this report.


UPDATES:

UPDATES:

6:30 p.m.: This article was updated with new information about features of the tour bus’s engine.

2:25 p.m.: This article was updated with new information about an April inspection and with details about the investigation.

1:15 p.m.: This article was updated with new information about the tour bus’ wheels.

This article was originally published at 12:38 p.m.


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