May 18, 2008

Laughlin tour bus crashes - 1 dies, 21 hurt

The charter bus operated by Royal American veered from the highway into a dirt median, overturned and skidded 100 feet, officials say. A Los Angeles woman was ejected and died at the scene.

Firefighters stand beside a bus that crashed on Interstate 40 outside of Barstow, Ca., killing a female passenger. Courtesy of the San Bernadino County Fire Department

By Deborah Schoch, Staff Writer
Los Angeles Times

One woman died and 21 others were injured when a tour bus en route from Culver City to Laughlin, Nev., overturned Saturday on an isolated stretch of Interstate 40 in the Mojave Desert, officials said.

Six helicopters and at least nine emergency vehicles, some recruited from nearby military bases, shuttled injured passengers to area hospitals.

Eight of the victims were severely hurt and 13 others suffered minor to moderate injuries. Most or all were from West Los Angeles, a California Highway Patrol spokesman said.

Faith Creer, 31, of Los Angeles, died at the scene when she was ejected from the bus after it veered from the highway onto the dirt median, toppled on its side and skidded 100 feet, said CHP Officer Taj Johnson.

Some passengers escaped by crawling through the frame of the shattered front windshield, aided by other passengers and drivers who pulled over at the scene, where temperatures soared to 101 degrees.

The identities of the others on the bus were not released, but San Bernardino County Fire Department spokeswoman Tracey Martinez said they boarded the charter at Fox Hills Mall in Culver City. The bus was operated by Royal American Tours & Charter of Glendale, she said. Company officials could not be reached for comment.

Creer's mother said her daughter was on a casino trip, and another relative said she was traveling with her husband.

The crash occurred shortly before 11 a.m. on the eastbound lanes of I-40 about 40 miles east of Barstow and 132 miles west of Laughlin.

The bus was traveling in the left lane about 70 mph when it drifted about 40 feet onto the dirt median, Johnson said. The speed limit is 70 mph on the stretch of highway.

"We don't know why he allowed it to drift," Johnson said. "The driver himself didn't know why it drifted."

As the driver tried steering back onto the pavement, the bus fishtailed, overturned and skidded on its side, Johnson said.

"It's pretty torn up," Martinez said. "It was laying on the driver's side. The front windshield was out."

Six passengers were admitted to Loma Linda University Medical Center, including four who were airlifted there, a hospital official said. One passenger was unharmed, officials said.

About 20 relatives and friends of the victims waited inside the hospital and near the emergency room Saturday evening. Some were crying. Others tried to comfort one another. Most said they were too anxious and emotional to talk.

Two more victims were at Arrowhead Regional Medical Center in Colton, one in critical condition, the other stable. Three were at St. Mary Medical Center in Apple Valley.

Three other passengers were treated for minor injuries at Colorado River Medical Center in Needles, Calif.

Fort Irwin and the Marine Corps Logistics Base near Barstow sent rescue vehicles.

The eastbound lanes of I-40 were closed and traffic was diverted to side roads, Martinez said. The CHP is investigating the cause of the accident.

No other vehicles were involved.

Royal American Tours, founded in 2002 by Madanyan Enterprises Inc., transports passengers for tour operators, employers, casino trips, senior centers and other groups, according to the company website.

In December 2005, a Royal American bus filled with passengers burst into flames on Interstate 10 on its way to a casino in Indio, according to the Riverside Press-Enterprise. The bus was destroyed, but no passengers were injured, the newspaper reported.

In the last five years, at least three tour buses owned by other companies have been involved in accidents in the desert, according to news reports.

At least one man died and more than 50 people were injured in March 2005 when a tour bus bound for an Indio casino collided with a fire engine on I-10.

Nineteen people were hurt in September 2004 when a Las Vegas-bound tour bus overturned in a thunderstorm on Interstate 15.

About 100 people were injured in March 2003 when a tour bus bound from Las Vegas to Los Angeles crashed into another bus in a construction zone along I-15.