Deadly Greyhound crash completely avoidable, investigation flawed, expert says

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- The CHP made major mistakes in its investigation into the Greyhound bus crash that killed six people in Fresno in 2010, according to a retired officer who helped write the manual on how the CHP should conduct investigations.

The CHP investigation blamed 18-year-old Sylvia Garay for the entire crash, saying she was driving drunk and started a deadly and unavoidable chain reaction. But the man who taught many officers how to conduct these investigations says a) Nobody did the right tests to see who really was driving and b) It was avoidable.

For much of that fateful night in July 2010, we know Vanessa Gonzalez drove her friend's SUV stone cold sober. Cell phone video acquired by Action News is part of the proof. But when the smiles faded and the SUV rolled over, CHP investigators concluded it was Sylvia Garay behind the wheel. The young ladies all died, along with three people on board the Greyhound bus that hit their wrecked vehicle. Garay had a blood alcohol content of .11 and took the brunt of the blame. But Tom Shelton helped write the book on accident investigation at CHP and he says he found gaping holes in the findings.

"Based on what I reviewed, I can't really tell you beyond a reasonable doubt who was driving," he said.

He agreed with attorneys suing Greyhound who say investigators ignored forensic evidence.

"There could've been a lot more evidence that MAIT (The CHP accident investigation team) could've collected that would've conclusively established who was sitting in what position and they simply failed to get that information," said plaintiff's attorney Stuart Chandler.

Shelton said seat belt marks show it's possible Gonzalez was driving. He also criticized the 566-page CHP report for only considering whether bus driver James Jewett could've come to a complete stop before hitting the SUV. The investigation determined Jewett should've noticed the overturned SUV from about 385 feet away. But according to Shelton, "the evidence is pretty clear that he never took any evasive action at all."

"There (are) witnesses identifying a number of vehicles driving around that overturned SUV," Chandler said. "And the one vehicle that didn't drive around it, didn't brake, slow down, swerve or do anything at all was the bus."

In fact, Shelton said the crash actually was completely avoidable if the bus driver was paying attention, driving the speed limit, and just veered slightly to the right. Greyhound's attorneys maintain the CHP got it right and the entire crash was caused by a drunk driver in the SUV. The trial is expected to last until late this month.

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