PALM SPRINGS (AP) — No signs, lighting or reduced speed limit were required for utility work done on a stretch of Southern California freeway where a tour bus slammed into a truck, killing 13 people, according to documents released Tuesday.
Southern California Edison Co.’s permit allowed the utility to halt traffic on westbound Interstate 10 near Palm Springs for up to five minutes, five times a day during non-peak hours, according to a copy obtained by The Associated Press under a California Public Records Act request. The one-month permit from the state Department of Transportation took effect about five hours before the Oct. 23 crash.
The utility paid the California Highway Patrol just under $3,450 to help control traffic. Under their agreement, the highway patrol was to provide 32 hours of officer time over the month and 100 miles of travel.
The crash, one of the deadliest in California history, occurred shortly before sunrise when a tour bus with 42 passengers returning to Los Angeles from an overnight trip to the Red Earth Casino on California’s Salton Sea struck the back of a semitrailer. A highway patrol official has said the bus was moving at “freeway speed” when it hit the truck, which was going about 5 mph.
Terri Kasinga, a transportation department spokeswoman, said “a short queue” of vehicles had come to a halt at the time of the crash. She said investigators were looking at whether there were any signs or other warnings, even though they weren’t required under the permit.
Signs and lighting are typically not required for such short interruptions, Kasinga said. Traffic is often stopped for that duration to remove debris or a dead animal.
“Five minutes is a small amount of time,” she said. “If there was anything in excess, you would have seen a completely different permit.”
A highway patrol spokesman, Officer Mike Radford, said he couldn’t address specifics of the crash but that the agency stops traffic under such circumstances by having an officer drive across all lanes with flashing lights while gradually slowing. He didn’t know if work continued under the permit, which expires Nov. 23.
Southern California Edison declined to comment beyond a statement it issued last week that said it worked with the transportation department and highway patrol to ensure that its work on a “facilities upgrade project” was done safely.
The permit allowed the utility to move conductors from wooden poles to new steel poles.
A log kept by the transportation department shows the utility applied for the permit on Oct. 7. The department devoted eight hours to its review.
A department representative, Ebraham Ebraham, wrote three days before the crash that he met at the site with James Lopez, a utility company foreman, to review guidelines, get a copy of the utility’s agreement with the highway patrol and sign paperwork.
The highway patrol has said that there were no other accidents on the night of the crash.
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