Atwater bus crash killed 4, not 5

At least five people were killed in a crash on Highway 99 near Liberty Drive. (Ryan Hudgins/KMPH)

UPDATE: Wednesday, August 3, 2016 - The California Highway Patrol and National Traffic Safety Board held a news conference on Wednesday regarding the bus crash on Tuesday near Atwater.

Don Karol with the NTSB said the investigators will be conducting a 5 to 7 day fact finding mission and will be conducting eyewitness interviews.

Karol said the NTSB will not be determining the probable cause during that time, nor will they be speculating on the cause, but only gathering facts.

While not much information is being released pending the investigation, CHP Captain Brian Hawkins confirmed the number of people killed in the crash is four, not five as previously reported.

The Merced County Sheriff's Office released the names of those killed in the crash.

  • 57-year-old Fernando Ramirez and his wife, 64-year-old Petra Carillo Ruiz of Mexico
  • 68-year-old Jose Morales Bravo of Avalon, CA
  • 38-year-old Jaime De Los Santos of Tijuana, Mexico

Sheriff Warneke said the Mexican Consule has been very helpful in tracking down family and notifying them of the tragedy.

The cause of the crash is still under investigation.


Traffic is now back open on Highway 99 north of Atwater, in Merced County, after an early morning bus crash led to a 15-hour closure of the northbound lanes.

A bus, headed to Sacramento, crashed into a sign pole around 3:30 a.m. killing five people and sending 22 to area hospitals.

"This is a substantial scene... this is a tragedy," said California Highway Patrol officer Moises Onsurez.

The crash drew first responders from across Merced County.

Helicopters, fire engines, and ambulances took over the northbound lanes of Highway 99 near Liberty Drive for hours later.

A representative for the passenger bus company "Autobuses Coordinados" told Fox26 KMPH news the bus began its trip in Los Angeles and had made at least one stop in the Central Valley, in Selma, before it planned to stop in Livingston to pick up more passengers. It was then set to stop in Sacramento, where passengers would transfer onto another bus that would take them to Pasco, Washington.

Six of the passengers were flown to hospitals in Merced, Turlock and Modesto. 16 others were taken by ambulance. Doctors told members of the media that some passengers had broken bones. Others required amputations.

Those who were not severely hurt were taken by patrol cars to the Merced CHP Office.

A 12-year-old girl named Jennifer Rivera was among them.

She was traveling to Pasco with her aunt and uncle.

"I woke up and I was on the floor," she said in Spanish, outside the CHP office. "The bus crashed and I got out. My arm was scraped up. It hurt a lot."

Jennifer's aunt and uncle were among the missing.

A relative called on friends in Visalia to pick her up, while they drove down from Pasco to pick her up.

As of Tuesday night, she had no information on her aunt and uncle's conditions.

The driver of the bus was identified as 57-year-old Mario Vasquez of Los Angeles.

Vasquez survived the crash, but suffered extensive injuries and was not able to speak with investigators.

As a result, investigators relied on measurements, evidence and statements from survivors to piece together the crash.

The bus was towed to a yard, where it will be thoroughly examined.

A report by the CHP major incident investigation team could take up to a year to complete.

According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), the Autobuses Coordinados bus involved in Tuesday's crash was found to have violations in the past.

In nearly a third of those inspections, federal investigators ordered the buses out of service.

The bus involved in Tuesday's crash had three violations listed following its most recent inspection on April 28, 2016:

  • there was either no, or a defective brake warning device
  • the bus was equipped with prohibited, non-automatically folding seats in the aisle
  • the company needed to inspect/repair parts and accessories

Violations with the same bus, recorded on February 5, 2015, included inoperative required lamps and a damaged or discolored windshield.

During that same inspection, investigators found that bus' driver was not licensed. That driver's name was not released-- but the CHP reports that Vasquez's license was up-to-date.

Records show the company had no crashes until Tuesday.

Bus crash by Lizzy Riecken on Scribd

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