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Tour bus crash: Residents smelled burning brakes, heard horn

February 5, 2013 |  1:35 pm

PHOTOS: Fatal crash of tour bus

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. Moments later, it would hit a car, fall on its side and slide, colliding with a pickup truck and leaving seven people dead.

Later that night, they would learn that a well-loved resident, Fred Richardson, 72, was the driver of that pickup truck, and was critically injured in the collision. Richardson had been driving the pickup, with a trailer, up California 38 to his home, a century-old stone house built by his grandfather, where he lived with his wife.

“My parents heard the horn of the bus honking when it went by,” said Brenda Knight, a niece of Richardson. “And they could smell the smell of the brakes.”

PHOTOS: Fatal crash of tour bus

Fred RichardsonKnight's parents started checking news reports for any sign of an accident, certain that something terrible must have happened to the tour bus. They were too distraught to talk Tuesday.

Residents and relatives of Richardson remained devastated as word spread that Richardson sustained critical injuries and remained in an intensive care unit at Loma Linda Medical Center.

"He’s a good guy, kind spirit -- you know, if you need something you can always call Fred,” Knight said. “He’s just so seriously, seriously hurt. It’s so hard to see him in the ICU because of all the trauma to his head and chest. It’s devastating. We try to get those images out of your mind, because that’s what makes us break down.”

Knight said she was at the hospital Monday and held his hand, but got no response from her uncle. His wife, Anita, remains at the hospital with him, she said.

“It’s just so difficult for all of us," she said. "I want you to see my uncle for the wonderful person he is.”

Knight said California 38, where the accident occurred, is extremely dangerous and has been the site of frequent “horrific” accidents.

Gary Hatfield, 77, a Vietnam veteran who is retired, said, “That family is bedrock in Mountain Home Village.” Hatfield said he rides the highway on his Harley Davidson motorcycle daily, and is always wary when he sees Mexican tour buses on the road. He isn't happy that the North American Free Trade Agreement allows them to drive on U.S. roads. “You see those Mexican tour buses -- thank you, NAFTA,” he said.

Carly Schmitt, 29, a resident who pushed a stroller carrying her year-old daughter, Lily, in front of the Richardson house, said everyone in town was distraught. Richardson worked on many of their yards and was a close friend to many neighbors, she said.

“The night it happened, I was just watching TV, just bawling my eyes out,” Schmitt said. Like other neighbors, she said that Richardson and his family were well-liked.

Richardson spent his life in the tiny mountain community, a small collection of cabins and homes along California 38, less than four miles from the crash site.

His doctors have him on a 72-hour watch and are monitoring his neurological signs, Knight said.

Richardson has two grown children and has been a landscaper for decades, she said. He is an avid trout fisherman, and his wife grows African violets.

Authorities released the names of six of the seven killed on the bus. Three were from San Diego and were identified as Guadalupe Olivas, 61; Elvira Garcia Jimenez, 40; and Victor Cabrera Garcia, 13, the San Bernardino County coroner's office said.

The other three were from Tijuana. They were identified as Aleida Adriana Arce Hernandez, 38; Rubicelia Escobedo Flores, 34; and Mario Garcia Santoyo, 32.

The tour bus, owned by Scapadas Magicas of National City, left Tijuana early Sunday with 38 passengers, including children, and was returning from the ski resort town of Big Bear Lake when the driver lost control on the sweeping, downhill bends on California 38 near the bottom of the San Bernardino Mountains.


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Top photo: Firefighters work Monday morning on the wreckage of a bus that crashed on California  38 just north of Yucaipa. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times.

Lower photo: Fred Richardson, in a snapshot provided by his family.