An investigation was underway after yet another tour bus crashed on a Southern California Highway, injuring more than a dozen people. Two other buses crashed just days earlier. The crashes come on the heels of an NBC4 I-Team investigation into SoCal tour bus company who had violated safety regulations. Beverly White reports for the NBC4 News at 11 p.m. Monday, Dec. 23, 2013.
Thirteen people suffered minor injuries Monday morning when a tour bus carrying about 40 passengers crashed while returning from a Riverside County casino.
The bus was traveling at an unsafe speed when it crashed about 4:30 a.m. off a freeway exit ramp, went down an embankment and hit a light pole, the California Highway Patrol said.
The crash happened on the Baldwin Hills exit ramp (map) in Baldwin Park, about 20 miles east of downtown Los Angeles.
CHP Officer Rodrigo Jimenez blamed the crash on the driver, identified as 56-year-old Zhi Guang Li, one of nine drivers with Travel Tours Americas International, of Hacienda Heights.
I-Team Investigation: Tour Bus Safety
"Had he been going slower, he would have been able to negotiate it and no collision would have occurred," Jimenez said. The bus he was driving was one of eight in the fleet.
The company has had six "hours of service" compliance violations in the last two years, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which monitors commercial buses. In one case in May, the company was cited for falsifying driving records, a violation that officials said could result in prosecution.
It forced federal regulators to pull the driver off his route.
While speed appears to be to blame for the crash, it doesn't appear to be a pattern. The company has received one speeding violation in the last two years.
Many of the passengers were sleeping when the vehicle slid off the curving exit ramp and into a shallow drainage ditch between the ramp and store parking lot. The bus, bound for Eagle Rock after a casino trip to Indio (map), smashed into the concrete base of a light pole.
A passenger told NBC4 rescue crews removed windows to help passengers get off the bus because the door was blocked from the outside.
Emergency responders set up a triage area in a Food 4 Less store parking lot to treat passengers. The red, yellow and green color-coded triage mats that indicate the severity of victims' injuries, were removed about 6 a.m. after 13 passengers suffered only minor injuries.
A tow truck pulled the bus out of the ditch about 6:30 a.m.
Jacob Fakoory, the Methodist Hospital emergency room’s medical director, said passengers suffered cuts, bruises and minor head trauma from striking their heads in front of the seats.
“They were pretty scared, especially the older people,” he said.
The crash temporarily backed up traffic on the westbound 10 Freeway.
The crash comes after two fatal tour bus crashes on Thursday on the same stretch of the 15 Freeway while returning from casinos.
NBC4's Chris Henao, Keith Esparros and Jason Kandel contributed to this report.