Bus strikes pipes on remote interstate, killing 4

Published on NewsOK Modified: May 22, 2014 at 12:43 am •  Published: May 22, 2014
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BLYTHE, Calif. (AP) — A bus rolling through a remote stretch of desert struck a load of metal pipes scattered across a dark California highway Wednesday, then slid down an embankment and overturned in an accident that killed four passengers and seriously injured at least seven others.

Only a minute or two before the collision, the pipes had tumbled from a flatbed truck that jackknifed after drifting into the dirt median on Interstate 10, the main road linking Southern California and Arizona, the California Highway Patrol said.

It was the second serious crash in a month involving a truck and passenger bus in California. In April, a big rig smashed head-on into a charter bus carrying high school students on a university visit, killing 10 people.

Wednesday's crash occurred around 2:15 a.m. just west of Blythe, near the Arizona border, where the eastbound truck's spilled cargo obstructed both lanes in each direction. The truck carried dozens of pipes, some as long as 50 feet. The interstate was shut until about 6 p.m. Wednesday.

The bus was about three-quarters through its 800-mile trip from El Paso, Texas, to Los Angeles. Authorities believe there were 33 passengers aboard, but they were checking that against the trip manifest. Seven passengers were seriously hurt and taken to hospitals, and 14 others sought evaluation of minor injuries, according to CHP officer Jason Gerard.

Neither driver was hurt.

As the driver of the truck, whose identity was not released, tried to pass slower vehicles in an area with a 70 mph speed limit, he drifted onto the dirt shoulder and lost control, CHP Lt. Cmdr. Gustavo Guzman said.

Other drivers would have struggled to see the pipes until they were in range of a vehicle's headlights. The interstate has no lights, and the night had only a half moon.

Almost immediately, two eastbound passenger vehicles struck the pipes, though nobody was hurt in those crashes, Guzman said.

About a minute later, the bus bore down.

Richard Lee of La Mirada was sleeping in the passenger seat of an SUV that hit the pipes before the bus. He said he woke to two loud pops, got out and soon after saw the lights of what he thought was another truck approaching from the opposite direction.

"When I found out about the casualties I felt very, very lucky that I survived," Lee told KABC-TV.

The truck was operated by VG Transport and based in Rialto, east of Los Angeles. According to federal safety records, VG Transport has not been involved in any crashes reported to state officials over the past two years. Those records say the company has only one truck.

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