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Runaway tour bus: Passengers screamed, prayed before crash

February 5, 2013 |  4:10 pm

The passengers on a runaway bus that apparently lost its brakes in a fatal weekend accident near Yucaipa clung to each other and said a prayer before the bus rolled down the hillside, killing seven people.

"The bus was going super fast," said Olivia Quintero, who heard the harrowing account from her cousin, Diana Maldonado, one of dozens injured in the Sunday evening crash. "Some were screaming, praying. Some were really crying."

Quintero visited Maldonado at Loma Linda University Medical Center on Tuesday, where the Chula Vista resident is still recovering from a shoulder injury and facial lacerations.

PHOTOS: Tour bus crash

Maldonado had joined several of her friends for a day trip to Big Bear to ski and play in the snow.

But on the way home, the brakes apparently went out. The bus driver told passengers to clutch on to their seat partners and brace for impact.

But Maldonado had no one sitting next to her.

"She started praying and put a sweater over her head," Quintero said.

Quintero said all of Maldonado's friends survived the crash, although some suffered serious injuries.

The National Transportation Safety Board is expected to provide an update on the investigation Tuesday afternoon.

Residents of the San Bernardino Mountain community of Mountain Home Village heard a bus roar by Sunday night, its horn honking, and smelled burning brakes in its wake.

Over the last year, federal inspectors found faulty axles and brakes and other safety violations on the bus.

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.


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-- Phil Willon