Over the years, many came to know Vermont Avenue and Olympic Boulevard as Don Elias' corner.
This is where the driver of Sunday morning’s tragic bus accident that left 13 dead, Teodulo Elias Vides, used to park and wait for customers.
“He stood in this very spot as passengers began to board,” said Maggie Monterroso of South Los Angeles, pointing to the sidewalk outside a cellphone store. “He was always friendly, always jovial.”
The family counselor began traveling to casinos on Vides’ bus nearly 10 years ago. She said he was a responsible driver and she never saw him gamble or look tired as he drove.
“He’d tell us every time, ‘Before you gamble and lose your money, make sure you eat,’” she said. “He cared a lot about us.”
Monterroso said Vides used to own a handful of buses years ago and had drivers operating each one. His daughter, Julie, helped him run the business, which recently had scaled back. She said Vides drove many routes including Las Vegas, Santa Barbara and San Diego.
Vides had been previously sued at least twice for negligence after collisions with vehicles, one of which ended in three deaths. He was named in a civil suit after a USA Holiday bus crashed into a Honda Civic on the northbound 215 Freeway in Riverside on May 6, 2007. The driver of the sedan, Sylvia Saucedo, and two of her passengers, Maria Llamas and Julio Morales, were killed. Llamas’ relatives sued Vides and the bus driver, Paulino Camacho Ceballos, the following year alleging personal injury and negligence.
Lawyers for Vides, however, rebutted the lawsuit, arguing that the Honda was driving at an “unreasonable rate of speed” and that Saucedo lost control of the vehicle and ricocheted off the center divider wall. The case appears to have been dismissed after the plaintiffs failed to respond to discovery requests.
Vides was identified by authorities on Monday as the driver of the USA Holiday bus that was headed west on Interstate 10 early Sunday when it crashed into a big-rig truck. He was identified among the dead. An additional 31 people were injured.
Like Monterroso, dozens of passengers — people who know each other by face, not always by name — took turns leaving candles and prayers for the driver and the victims at a makeshift memorial. They covered a palm tree with roses, daisies and notes.
Some came desperate to get information on someone they knew.
Rosa Maria Cabello of Pico Union showed up at 7 a.m. under gray skies and a slight drizzle. She heard her friend, a woman she simply knew as Rosalba, was among the dead.
“She was beautiful and used to call me abuela,” Cabello said. “She would sing and dance and feed me grapes on the way to the casino. My soul hurts to think she’s gone.”
At 79, Cabello said the long, overnight trips to the casino gave many seniors like her a sense of community, of family.
“Your kids, they forget about you,” she said. “This was our distraction, a place to forget everything and just enjoy.”
Now and then, when Cabello had no money, she’d convince Vides to let her ride for free.
Lester Garcia of Huntington Park showed up at the memorial site just after 1 p.m. His eyes were puffy and his voice broke as he spoke.
His father, Gustavo Garcia Green, was among the dead. He and his mother struggled Monday morning to find out who was responsible for the accident.
They searched for a contact for the bus company.
Garcia Green, 62, was from Guatemala. He was a mechanic, a father of 10 who enjoyed going to casinos now and then to gamble.
“This is a very difficult time for us,” Garcia said, his mother standing somberly by his side, dressed in black. “They told us his body is ready to be picked up, but we need more information.”