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Feds Question Owners of Tour Bus that Crashed, Killing Seven from SD, Tijuana

A motor carrier team was in the San Diego area Tuesday interviewing the owner of Scapadas Magicas LLC, which registered the bus in National City, according to the NTSB.

The National Transportation Safety Board plans to scrutinize brakes and other components on a tour bus that crashed Sunday on State Route 38 north of Yucaipa, killing seven people from San Diego and Tijuana, an investigator said Tuesday outside an Ontario tow yard.

All three vehicles from the gruesome crash on Feb. 3 are being stored at Certified Towing on East State Street, said Eric Weiss of the NTSB, which chose the location to stage a news conference.

Investigators will be looking at "many parameters of this vehicle, braking, acceleration" and other factors, Robert Accetta of the NTSB told reporters.

"Today the NTSB split up into two teams," Accetta said. "The motor carrier team is down in San Diego area interviewing the owner of the company and one of the mechanics that works for the company."

The bus is registered to Scapadas Magicas LLC of National City, CHP Officer Mario Lopez said before sunrise Monday at a road block south of the crash scene on the 38. Ontario is about 40 miles west of the crash site.

"The other investigator was here today examining the interior of the motor coach bus," Accetta said. "The investigation has progressed. Keep in mind this is just day two of the investigation."

The crash occurred shortly after 6:30 p.m. Feb. 3, when the driver of a 1996 VanHool Bus carrying more than 30 people "experienced a loss of control allowing the front end of the bus to strike the rear of a Saturn sedan traveling within the same lane," CHP investigators said in a statement issued earlier Tuesday.

The bus continued out of control as it approached a curve and veered into the opposing lane where it collided with a blue Ford pickup truck pulling a trailer, traveling uphill.

"As a result of the collision, the bus rolled over causing several passengers to be ejected," CHP investigators said. "The bus was then deflected back into the eastbound lane after striking a large boulder adjacent to the roadway."

Striking the boulder forced the bus upright again and it came to stop blocking both lanes of the 38, CHP investigators said. The Saturn and the Ford pickup were stopped on the shoulder of  the 38.

The crash scene was below the mouth of Mill Creek Canyon and the bridge crossing Mill Creek, north of the Mill Creek Ranger Station at Bryant Street, east of Mentone and Redlands.

"There were a total of seven people confirmed deceased as a result of the collision," CHP investigators said.

The tour bus itinerary was Tijuana to Big Bear and back to Tijuana, CHP Officer Leon Lopez said Monday at the crash scene.

The seven deceased victims were identified Monday and Tuesday by San Bernardino County Sheriff-Coroner's investigators as Guadalupe Olivas 61, of San Diego, Elvira Garcia Jimenez, 40, of San Diego, Victor Cabrera Garcia, 13, of San Diego, Aleida Adriana Arce Hernandez, 38, of Tijuana, Rubicelia Escobedo Flores, 34, of Tijuana, Mario Garcia Santoyo, 32, of Tijuana, and Liliana Camerina Sanchez Sauceda 24, of Tijuana.

Accetta, who specializes in highway safety, is designated the NTSB investigator-in-charge of the federal agency's probe of the tour bus crash, Weiss said.

"We so far have weighed the vehicles involved in the accident and are in the process of taking overhead photographs of the accident vehicles," Accetta said. "Right now the California Highway Patrol is working on the motor coach. Eventually they will take out the other vehicles and take overhead photographs of those."

The photographs will be used for accident reconstruction as the NTSB proceeds with the investigation, Accetta said. The NTSB will also conduct 3D scans of all the vehicles involved in the crash.

"We have not yet started the mechanical inspection of the motor coach," Accetta said. "The process to conduct the investigation is . . . methodical . . . and until we get the other portions of the investigation finished, we will not be able to begin the inspection of the motor coach.

"Tomorrow I hope that we will be able to finish with the scans if we don't today, and then maybe we'll be able to begin the inspection of the motor coach," Accetta said.

In addition to the brakes, other mechanical portions of the bus will be inspected, Accetta said. The bus that crashed is equipped with an air brake system.

"This is an air brake system similar to what you would find on a semi truck," Accetta said.

The NTSB investigators who interviewed the owner of the tour bus company also collected paperwork on the company, their operating procedures and driver information, Accetta said.

The driver of the bus on Sunday, Norbert B. Perez, 52, of San Ysidro, was injured in the crash and hospitalized, according to the CHP. Investigators with CHP have taken a blood sample and conducted a followup interview with the driver on Tuesday, Accetta said.

There is a module on the bus that collects information, similar to black box data recorders on aircraft, but it's an older model bus so it was unknown Tuesday whether investigators will be able to access the information, Accetta said.

Investigators will also be looking at the steepness of Highway 38 in the area of the crash, Accetta said.

"We're looking at the grade of the roadway so that if there was anything wrong mechanically with the bus that will be factored in."

The NTSB is billed as an independent federal agency charged by Congress with investigating every civil aviation accident in the U.S., as well as significant railroad, highway, marine and pipeline accidents.

"We have 400 people," Weiss said. "Most of them are aviation folks. We have a very small office of highway safety. There are five million highway accidents a year. So we have to be very selective in what we do. Bus safety is on our most wanted list of areas for improvement."

The NTSB is investigating the Sunday bus crash on the 38 in part because of the number of fatalities, Accetta said.

"In the highway division we look at accidents in which there may be multiple fatalities, but we feel we may be able to get recommendations to prevent these type of accidents," Accetta said. "In some cases we've made recommendations in the past and we need to reiterate those recommendations."

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