PALM SPRINGS (CBSLA.com) — Authorities say a tour bus and a semi-truck crashed on the 10 Freeway Sunday killing 13 people and injuring 30 more in Palm Springs.
During an afternoon briefing, California Highway Patrol Border Division Chief Jim Abele confirmed the fatalities from the wreck on Interstate 10 near Indian Canyon Road in Desert Hot Springs.
The 1996 tour bus belongs to USA Holiday, a Los Angeles-based company, and was transporting 44 passengers when it hit the back of a freight-liner truck trailer in the third westbound lane just before sunrise.
Within minutes, officers with the CHP and fire personnel arrived on scene, and triage was established.
“Tragically, 13 people were killed, including the driver of the bus,” said Abele, adding that 31 passengers were transported to three hospitals.
“All passengers are believed to be adults. Identities are unknown, largely due to the swift action and immediate triaged care that they needed,” he said.
Authorities did not release the name of the bus driver. The driver of the big-rig sustained minor to moderate injuries.
Of the injured, Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs received 14 patients, of which 5 were admitted into the intensive care unit.
Trauma surgeon, Charles Townsend, said those patients were “stable.” Several other patients have since been discharged.
“This was not just a high speed crash. It was a high speed crash where there was slow motion deceleration, as opposed to hitting a wall at 60 to 80 miles per hour. This bus struck something that was actually collapsible,” Townsend said. “As a result, the types of injuries that we saw were a bit unique.”
He said most of the victims were “unrestrained,” meaning they weren’t wearing seat belts, and “therefore were flown through the air and ended up sustaining facial trauma.”
He also indicated that there wasn’t a significant amount of head injuries, but there were several spine fractures.
The bus was traveling from the Red Earth Casino near the Salton Sea. The cause of the crash was not known.
CBS2’s Greg Mills reported from the scene of the accident. Most of the officials he spoke to shared one thought — they’d never witnessed something this awful.
The bus hit the truck so hard, the front of the bus was embedded about 15 feet into the back of the semi.
Abele said the most of the fatalities were among those in the front of the bus.
“It’s tough. It’s tough for all of us.” Abele said. “You never get used to this kind of thing.”
The driver of the semi truck survived with only moderate injuries. He really didn’t know what happened, said Abele.
“I’ll tell you what he said, he said he felt a thump in the back but that’s all he knew. He didn’t know what specifically happened.”
The bus had passed a safety inspection within the last three years. Early speculation is centered on the bus driver for either having fallen asleep or possibly suffered a medical emergency.
The bus driver did not hit the brakes before the impact, officials said.
The injured told investigators everyone was asleep on the bus when the accident occurred.
Concerned families have been calling CHP for much of the day about relatives and loved one who didn’t come home. The CHP says that some of the people on the bud didn’t have valid IDs.
As of 10 p.m., KCAL9’s Erica Nochlin said four people were still in critical condition at Desert Regional Medical Center.
She spoke to the brother of one of the deceased.
Armindo Baz was told his sister, Rosaldo Ruiz, died instantly and didn’t suffer.
He told Nochlin his sister had five grandchildren.
“She get along with everybody,” said Baz, “and she enjoy doing what she was doing, went to the casinos.”
He wants to know what caused the crash.
“I told her to be careful,” he said, “the last time I talked to her was Wednesday. She was a happy person.”
The National Transportation Safety Board is sending 11 team members to the site and expected to begin their investigation on Monday.