Six dead, dozens injured in Fresno bus accident

FRESNO, Calif.

                  |   Watch Videos Above for Extended Coverage   |

The Greyhound bus departed from Los Angeles Wednesday night -- headed to its final destination in Sacramento.

Just minutes before the crash, the bus had stopped at the Greyhound terminal in Downtown Fresno.

CHP officials say it's possible the bus driver who plowed into that SUV didn't see it in time because of its dark color.

But, they are still trying to figure out why the SUV flipped over in the first place which is what led up to this horrific crash.

The CHP shut down the northbound lanes of Highway 99 near McKinley for several hours Thursday ... as investigators tore through mangled wreckage and emergency crews frantically tended to dozens of victims.

"I was asleep and we just hit something and I went flying through the air and went over a few seats."

Six people died and 21 others had to be rushed to the hospital. Denise Esquivel and her son managed to walk away from the accident.

"I felt us go off the road and I just kept thinking like oh my god. This is not happening. We're gonna die."

"Some people didn't make it through, but a lot of people did, and they're up there in a better place, up there."

The California Highway Patrol says the series of events happened within an instant.

At 2:14 a.m. they were dispatched to the area for a rollover crash involving three young women.

Skid marks indicate their SUV made a sharp left turn into the divider before rolling over and blocking the fast and middle lanes.

Three minutes later, at 2:17 a.m. the Greyhound bus, which had just left the Downtown Fresno depot ... struck the SUV sending it over the embankment and straight into a eucalyptus tree.

The bus driver and two bus passengers were killed as well as all three girls ... who were ejected from their SUV. Investigators say they were not wearing seat belts.

"We don't know whether they had belts on during the original rollover and then may have removed the belts to get out of that vehicle before the next one struck, or maybe they never had them on."

At this point, CHP officials do not think alcohol played a role in the initial crash. Still, they will not say where the girls were coming from at that hour.

Action News was there as a plain clothes investigator left the Starline Nightclub in the Tower District Thursday, where an 18 and over event with a crowd of 200 people was held Wednesday night.

The manager confirmed the visit was related to the crash investigation. And he also says none of his employees recognize the victims.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Action News has learned more about the victims, including the bus driver who worked for Greyhound for 32 years.

57-year-old James Jewett lived in Sacramento. His daughters described him a man who loved his family, his job and the San Francisco Giants.

Jewett's daughters say he earned several safety awards and was often recognized for his dedication to Greyhound.

They also say he never drank alcohol.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Many families have been affected by this terrible tragedy. Some of the family members talk to Action News about their untimely deaths.

A family gathering takes place at the Solis family home Thursday night in Madera. Food was brought in to celebrate the life of 60 year old Epifania Solis, who was on her way home to Madera after visiting her children in Mexico. Solis was one of three people who died while riding a Greyhound bus that smashed into an SUV carrying 36 people including the driver on Highway 99 in Fresno. Epifania's niece Julie Gonzalez says their family will cook in honor of her aunt because that's what she loved to do most.

"We can't replace that woman; the only thing is that God took her before we were actually ready for this moment."

Jeremy Aguilar also lost someone in the crash. His fiancée Stephanie Cordoba was celebrating a birthday with two of her friends Wednesday night before the tragic accident. Aguilar at the time was working a graveyard shift. When he later got word of the accident, he went to the coroner's office where his worst fears were confirmed.

"As soon as they said 5 foot. 111 pounds, thin build, dark hair. I knew right away that was her." Aguilar said.

Aguilar and Cordoba had a baby girl three months ago. Now he says the love of his life won't be able to share future cherished memories of their daughter.

"I just wish she was there to see our baby grow up."

Chris Ambriz and Vanessa Bustillos' grandfather Tomas Ponce also did not survive. But Ponce's wife and brother made it to community regional medical center for treatment. Both underwent extensive surgery. Bustillos says it leaves their family feeling devastated.

"You're just lost. One of the biggest family members of the family. What are you supposed to do?"

The Ponce family made a trip to Mexico once a year and preferred riding over flying. They were supposed to come home for a family reunion.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Three of the surviving passengers remain hospitalized Thursday night in serious condition at Community Regional Medical Center. Two others are in good condition at Saint Agnes. Those not seriously hurt boarded other buses and headed on to their destinations.

Action News caught up with some of those passengers at the Downtown Fresno bus station. They all said they were grateful to have survived. One passenger said the aftermath, seeing the bodies of the victims including the driver was disturbing.

Bus crash survivor, Robert Long said, "One of the paramedics came up and asked do we know who was the bus driver could we describe him because they had no clue who was the driver. And we described him and pointed him out, and he was one who was under the bags."

Robert Long was treated at Kaiser. He said that he didn't feel great, but was well enough to travel.

The Greyhound bus was headed to Sacramento for its final stop. It left Los Angeles last night and made it's stop in Fresno at about 2:00 a.m. It was due in Sacramento this morning.

Most of the passengers made it to their final destination. That was welcome news to loved ones in Sacramento who heard about the accident as they waited for the bus to arrive at the greyhound station.

The brother, Nelson valdez was on the Greyhound bus. He was not injured. A Greyhound spokesperson said Madera was the next scheduled stop followed by its final stop in Sacramento.

Stay with ABC 30 and ABC30.com for the latest on this developing story ..

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

STATEMENT FROM GREYHOUND

"At approximately 2:35 a.m. Pacific time on July 22, Greyhound Lines bus 30601, schedule 6888, was traveling northbound on Highway 99 in Fresno, Calif., with 35 ticketed passengers on board. The scheduled final destination was Sacramento, Calif. The coach was traveling to its next stop, Madera, Calif., when the accident occurred.

"Sadly, two passengers, as well as our driver have passed away. Our driver has worked for Greyhound Lines for 32 years. This operator was an excellent driver with a clean driving record and was a very well respected member of the Greyhound family. He will be sorely missed by his colleagues and friends. Our thoughts are with the families of those affected by this incident.

"We are cooperating with the California Highway Patrol as they investigate the incident."

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Copyright © 2020 KFSN-TV. All Rights Reserved.