The faces of the survivors reflected the terror they'd just experienced. On a simple bus ride from Fresno to Sacramento, many were already asleep when the bus and their lives took an unwanted turn.
"All of the sudden, they feel the impact with the Garay SUV," said attorney Steven Brady, who represented nine of the surviving victims of the crash. "They sense the movement of the bus across the lanes of the 99 and the next thing, the bus is plunging down the embankment and then hits the tree and basically rips the front of the bus off. Most of my clients went flying."
A CHP investigation determined the bus didn't have time to avoid an SUV flipped on its side in the highway. Investigators blame the vehicle's 18-year-old driver for the deadly sequence of events. They say Sylvia Garay was drunk when she lost control. She and Stephanie Cordoba and Vanessa Gonzalez were trying to get out when the bus hit them. All three were killed, and their families are among many to sue Greyhound over the crash.
ABC30 legal analyst Tony Capozzi says, despite the results of the CHP investigation, they could still take a case to trial.
"How much distance was it before he saw [the SUV] and how much time did he have to react?" Capozzi asked. "Those are important questions that'll come up during the trial."
Attorneys suing Greyhound say there's evidence the driver, James Jewett, was speeding and wasn't wearing glasses at the time of the accident, leading them to believe he might've been able to minimize the damage or even avoid the crash altogether.
Greyhound reached a settlement of $2.1 million with the family of Tomas Ponce, one of two passengers to die in the crash. The bus company is settling with most of the surviving passengers as well, including a second grade teacher who was thrown from the bus by the force of the head-on impact with a eucalyptus tree.
"She came to the mediation with a stack of tests to grade," Brady said. "She realizes it's a miracle she lived through it."
But many survivors are still feeling the psychological impact of their disaster. Many say they now avoid Highway 99 completely and get flashbacks whenever they see a bus. They're hoping the settlements will help them put the crash behind them.
Greyhound has so far refused to settle with anyone connected to Garay's SUV.