GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

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February 5, 2013

Bus passenger describes terror

YUCAIPA, Calif. — The bus full of tired tourists returning to Tijuana, Mexico, was slowly winding its way down a mountain road after a day playing in the snow at the ski resort town of Big Bear when it suddenly picked up speed. The driver shouted to call 911 — the brakes had failed.

As passengers frantically tried to get a cellphone signal, a group of teenage girls shrieked and prayed aloud as others cried and shielded their heads as they careened downhill.

The bus rear-ended a Saturn sedan, swerved, flipped and slid on its side. A Ford pickup in the oncoming lane plowed into it, righting the bus and tossing passengers out shattered windows before it came to a halt.

“Everything happened so fast. When the bus spun everything flew, even the people,” said Gerardo Barrientos, who was next to his girlfriend one minute and then scrambling out of the wreckage the next trying to find her and a friend in the highway. Both were injured but alive.

Seven people were killed and about three dozen injured Sunday night in the accident 80 miles east of Los Angeles. The dead included 13-year-old Victor Cabrera-Garcia; Elvira Garcia Jimenez, 40; and Guadalupe Olivas, 61, all of San Diego; along with Aleida Adriana Arce Hernandez, 38, and Rubicelia Escobedo Flores, 34, both of Tijuana, San Bernardino County coroner’s investigator Tony Campisi said.

The names of two other women were withheld while next of kin were being notified, and coroner’s investigators had yet to identify one man.

On Monday, while families of the tourists descended on area hospitals looking for loved ones, investigators searched for evidence and scrutinized the bus company’s safety history.

Government records showed the bus, operated by Scapadas Magicas LLC of National City, Calif., recorded 22 safety violations in inspections in the year ending last October — including brake, windshield and tire problems. Though the company retained an overall “satisfactory” rating from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration it had been targeted for a higher rate of inspections linked to bus maintenance, the agency said.

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