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Tour bus crash: Authorities comb through 'gruesome' wreckage

February 4, 2013 |  2:17 pm

Bus crash
Authorities are questioning the bus driver in a crash that killed eight and injured dozens near Yucaipa, Calif., after the bus hit a sedan and veered into oncoming traffic  -- apparently after mechanical problems.

The driver is believed to be at an area hospital.

Authorities said they believe a problem with the brakes may have led to the crash.

PHOTOS: California 38 tour bus crash

The bus and the company that owns it have been cited repeatedly in recent months for poor maintenance, according to federal transportation records.

In October, owner Scapadas Magicas, a small firm in National City, Calif., was cited for eight deficiencies found during a roadside check of the vehicle. Those included a damaged windshield and lack of a properly installed fire extinguisher.

In July, the same bus was cited for a damaged windshield, as well as a faulty axle and brakes. In May, its wheel fasteners were loose or missing.

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

As a result of the findings from roadside inspections, the Transportation Department had placed Scapadas Magicas on a watch list that prioritized its buses for intervention and roadside inspection.

Maria McDade, who said she was Scapadas Magicas' administrator for more than 20 years before retiring last year, said none of the company's buses had ever been in an accident and, aside from a fine of $2,500, the company had complied with all Department of Transportation regulations.

"I feel really, really sad, but accidents happen," she said by walkie-talkie phone from her home in Tijuana. "I feel so sad for all these people."

Almost 20 hours after the crash, authorities remained at the scene of the accident.

In a painstaking, hours-long operation, a 60-ton crane plucked the stricken bus from where it came to rest at the side of the mountain road. Its front end had been buckled by a large boulder and the windshield had been pierced by an elderberry bush.

Once the bus was lifted onto the road and stabilized, emergency crews prepared to enter the vehicle and search it.

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

ALSO:

San Francisco cops arrest 25 for Super Bowl-related rowdiness

Robbery probably not motive in killings of basketball coach, fiance

Two teens killed by father in apparent murder-suicide, officials say

-- Julie Cart in Yucaipa, Calif.; Garrett Therolf in Los Angeles; and Rich Marosi in National City, Calif.

Photo: The investigation continues at the scene of a tour bus crash on California Highway 38 near Yucaipa. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times

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