4 dead in charter bus crash on Highway 99 near Livingston

Wednesday, August 3, 2016
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A fatal bus crash has killed five and injured dozens more. Rescue efforts ran for nearly four hours.

MERCED COUNTY, California (KFSN) -- First responders are calling it the most catastrophic incident they've seen in decades. A fatal bus crash has killed four and injured dozens more. Rescue efforts ran for nearly four hours. All lanes have reopened on northbound Highway 99.

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The California Highway Patrol says the tour bus was carrying about 50 people when it crashed into a highway pole at 3:30 a.m. on Tuesday August 2, 2016.

At least 30 people were on board-- six of whom were mediflighted to undisclosed hospitals. Sixteen others were transported to doctors at Emmanuel and Mercy Medical Center.

Only a handful of the bus passengers escaped injury.

"They will be interviewed as part of the investigation. As of now, what we are trying to do is make sure they are in a safe place away from the freeway -- in a safe location where we can conduct the rest of the investigation," said Moises Onsurez, Merced Area CHP..

The charter bus was heading from Mexico to Pasco, Washington when it collided with a freeway road sign on northbound Highway 99 just before 3:30 Tuesday morning.

"They were stopped in Los Angeles last night. And again, the next stop was going to be here in Livingston on their way to Sacremento and then all the way up to Washington," said Onsurez.

The cause of the crash is still under investigation.

The driver of the bus was 57-year-old Mario David Vasquez from LA-- he is still alive but sustained major injuries. Officials won't comment any further on his condition.

Vasquez's family members call him a responsible father and grandfather. His family was clearly shaken to learn the bus he was driving was involved in a deadly accident in Merced County.

Family members described Vasquez as a hard-working man who loved driving for Autobuses Coordinados USA. They said sometimes he worked seven days a week, but add Vasquez always traveled with a second driver.

Denise Menjivar, Vasquez's granddaughter, said, "Yes he was very responsible. When he got tired he told the other driver, 'you could take over from here,' because he knew it was important to come home."

Menjivar said Vasquez was more like a father to her. She added she knew something was wrong when he wasn't there to wake her up this morning.

Action News took a look at a report about the charter bus company and it doesn't list any crashes within the last two years.

It does, however, show a list of violations, mostly maintenance violations that were issued during inspections. And the most significant violation was issued to a driver for driving with a suspended license.

The bus that crashed is registered to Autobuses Coordinados USA in Fresno. Although, it isn't clear whether the company was operating it at the time or if it had been leased out. Either way, the company wasn't interested in talking with us, but CHP officers were there inside the building when we stopped by.

From here, we did some more digging and found more info about the inspections. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the company has a high rate of vehicles going out of service and drivers being pulled from the job.

There have been issues with brakes, tires, and steering systems.

The driver who was behind the wheel in this crash also may have had the most severe violation. Our affiliate at ABC7 did a criminal background check and found that he was cited for operating a vehicle with a suspended license last year. He was charged in February and convicted the next month.