Six people injured in bus crash near Twin Peaks remain in critical condition
Six people injured in Monday's bus crash in the San Bernardino Mountains remained in critical condition at Inland Empire hospitals Tuesday, including a 12-year-old girl from a Pasadena church group who suffered severe head trauma, authorities said.
A total of 23 people were hospitalized after the bus carrying teenagers and chaperons from the Korean church in Pasadena struck an SUV on a steep mountain road near Twin Peaks. The bus plunged down a snow-covered slope and hit a 50-foot cedar head on, killing the driver, officials said.
Among the most seriously injured was the 12-year-old girl, who identified herself as Esther JaeYoon Ha on her Facebook page. She sustained life-threatening injuries when she and other passengers were thrown to the front of the bus by the forceful impact, officials said.
"It's pretty severe head trauma," said Dr. Dev Gnandev, chief surgeon at Arrowhead Regional Medical Center.
The girl's prognosis for recovery won't be known for several days, he said. The patient -– whose identity was released by her church, not the hospital -– has undergone surgery on her fractured skull and internal injuries.
On her Facebook page last Wednesday evening, Ha posted excitedly about the retreat at the Pinecrest Christian Conference Center in Twin Peaks.
"Looking forward to the retreat!!" she posted in Korean. Several friends also going on the retreat replied, with one, Harrison Kim, quipping that she shouldn't get her expectations too high.
Cho Kyung-mi, the youth minister who was chaperoning the group, posted in response on the page: "It may snow ... bring warm clothes." Several teenagers replied excitedly about the snow, with Ha writing that she'd never seen falling snow.
Her older brother, Jae-Hoon Ha, posted on Saturday writing: "Ah ... going on the retreat!" He suffered a broken leg and nose, according to Light of Love Mission Church.
Officials said two other patients remain in serious condition at Arrowhead, with broken bones and internal injuries.
Four of the injured were treated and released Monday night, and two who had broken bones were transferred to Kaiser Sunset Hospital in Los Angeles to be closer to their families, Gnandev said.
He said the lack of safety belts on the bus led to the most serious injuries, because passengers were thrown forward with great force.
"If we can put a seat belt in an airplane, I'm not sure why we can’t put a seat belt on a bus,"’ said Gnandev, who for years has advocated the installation of safety belts on school buses.
Thirteen of the injured were transported to Loma Linda Medical Center, where three remain in critical condition. Hospital officials said those in the worst condition suffered serious head trauma, along with spinal and internal injuries. Six people have been treated and released from the medical facility, officials said.
The cause of the collision is under investigation by the California Highway Patrol. CHP spokesman Benjamin Baker said the bus had passed a CHP commercial carrier inspection in March.
As the bus rounded a nearly hairpin turn on two-lane California 189 highway outside Twin Peaks, in the Lake Arrowhead region, the bus collided with an SUV traveling the other direction, according to CHP Officer Mario Lopez.
The bus sheared through a utility pole but remained upright as it plunged about 25 feet into a small grove of cedars and white firs. It slammed into a large tree, Lopez said, coming to rest a few feet from a snow-fed stream.
The impact crumpled much of the cab and killed the driver, identified by the San Bernardino County coroner as 61-year-old Won Seok Chae of Los Angeles.
The bus was registered to the Light of Love Mission Church.
-- Phil Willon in Riverside and Victoria Kim in Pasadena
Photo: Coroner's officials wheel a body away after a church bus crashed along Highway 189 in the San Bernardino mountains Monday. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times