LAKE ARROWHEAD (AP) — A church bus driver caused a crash that plunged the vehicle off a San Bernardino County mountain road, killing him and injuring 23 others, mostly children, authorities said Tuesday.
Won Seok Chae, 61, lost control on a curve and crossed the double-yellow line on Highway 189 on Monday before the bus struck an SUV, sheared off a telephone pole, slid 20 feet down an embankment and came to rest against a tree, according to a statement from the county Sheriff-Coroner’s Department.
Chae, of Los Angeles, died at the scene.
Eleven people remained hospitalized, three of them critically.
The most seriously injured was a 12-year-old girl who remained unconscious. Jae-Yun Ha was listed in extremely critical condition with severe head injuries and abdominal bleeding.
“Her biggest challenge is the recovery of her brain function,” said Dr. Dev GnanaDev, medical director and chief of surgery at Arrowhead Regional Medical Center in Colton.
Caleb Kim, 17, and a 28-year-old woman were in critical but stable condition, he said.
All three have had multiple surgeries, he said.
Two other people with broken bones were in stable condition when they were transferred Tuesday to the Kaiser Permanente hospital in Hollywood, GnanaDev said.
There was no immediate word on their condition at that hospital.
Six people remained hospitalized at Loma Linda University Medical Center, some with broken bones. Two boys, ages 12 and 14, were listed in serious condition and three children, ages 12, 14 and 16, were in fair condition along with an 18-year-old girl.
The bus was carrying 18 youngsters and four adults from the Light of Love Mission Church, a Korean congregation in Pasadena. It was returning from a weekend retreat in Twin Peaks, about 70 miles east of Los Angeles.
It was unclear how fast the bus was going when it collided with the Nissan Murano, California Highway Patrol Officer Mario Lopez said.
Alcohol and weather conditions have been ruled out as contributing factors in the crash, Lopez said, adding that it was sunny and the road was wet but not icy.
The bus, a 1998 Blue Bird, passed a CHP inspection in March, he said.
Lopez said with the driver’s death, it was unlikely that anyone will be criminally charged in connection with the crash.
John Cho, a church deacon, said the bus driver was a professional driver who volunteered to make the trip.
Lee said he normally would have driven the bus.
“I was supposed to be driving, but I had a job to do,” Lee said Monday as he choked back tears. “So I asked other church member to drive.”
The Korean Presbyterian church planned a prayer meeting Tuesday night.
The congregation was suffering, the Rev. Seong Park said.
“It’s very, very painful,” he told the Riverside Press-Enterprise. “There is a lot of crying, a lot of pain, a lot of heartache.”
“On the one hand, people might be questioning why God allowed this to happen,” he said. “But on the other hand, it can increase people’s faith. People realize the frailty of life and come to God.”
“We see this as the work of Satan,” he added. “God gives us the grace to get through this, to find comfort not just in each other, but in God.”
(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)