Tour Bus Had Poor Safety Record Before Fatal Crash

Julie Cart et al., Los Angeles Times, February 4, 2013

Federal inspectors over the last year found faulty axles and brakes and other safety violations on the tour bus that careened out of control on a winding mountain road near Yucaipa on Sunday evening, killing seven passengers, records show.

Maintenance citations of the tour buses owned by Scapadas Magicas of National City were numerous and serious enough that the company was placed on a federal watch list that flagged its buses for increased roadside inspections.

Bald tires, defective or missing axle parts, and insufficient brake linings were among 59 maintenance violations inspectors found on the firm’s buses in the last two years, U.S. Department of Transportation safety records show.

The tour bus was operating under a contract with InterBus Tours and Charters, based in Tijuana, which closed its office Monday, shortly after sending a busload of day tourists to Knott’s Berry Farm. The Scapadas Magicas office in National City, in San Diego County, was not open Monday.


Sales Manager Jordi Garcia said the agency’s insurance would be handling burial expenses for the deceased. He said the agency had been open for one year and offered daily trips to Disneyland, Six Flags Magic Mountain and Universal Studios. The trips attracted people from all walks of life, including students, families and young professionals.


He said the business contracts with independently owned bus operators and that they are responsible for complying with all U.S. and Mexican regulations.


The Scapadas bus left Tijuana early Sunday with 38 passengers, including children, and was descending California 38 from the ski resort town of Big Bear Lake when the driver apparently lost control about four miles from Yucaipa.

The bus clipped a small Saturn sedan before it veered into oncoming traffic and began to roll, tossing out passengers who were not wearing seat belts. It crushed an oncoming Ford pickup before coming to rest upright atop a boulder and10-foot elderberry bush on a stretch of highway along Mill Creek. Backpacks, clothing and body parts were strewn across the crash site and, on Monday morning, a body remain draped out one of the bus windows.

“It is a gruesome and horrible scene. It’s one of the most horrific scenes I’ve ever seen in 10 years with the department,” said Officer Leon Lopez, spokesman for the California Highway Patrol.


The bus driver, as well as passengers, reported that the vehicle was experiencing mechanical problems before the accident occurred, authorities said. Investigators believe a problem with the brakes may have led the bus to speed out of control down the highway’s sweeping curves.

On Monday, those officials questioned the driver, identified as Norberto B. Perez, 52, of San Ysidro, but did not disclose his account of the crash.


Ramon Ramirez, who is listed in documents as the owner of Scapadas Magicas, lives in Tijuana and rents an apartment in Chula Vista. {snip}

Federal transportation records show that the bus involved in the crash has been cited as recently as October, when inspectors found a damaged windshield and noted that there was no properly installed fire extinguisher. In July, they found a faulty axle and brakes. An inspection in May revealed loose or missing wheel fasteners.

The violations helped place Scapadas Magicas below industry norms for safety. More than 75% of carriers in the same class have a better safety record, according to the Department of Transportation.



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