Byline: By By Paloma Esquivel, Esmeralda Bermudez and Richard Winton
Los Angeles Times
LOS ANGELES — Federal officials announced Tuesday that the tour bus that crashed in Desert Hot Springs on Sunday, killing 13, was out of compliance with vehicle safety standards because two of its eight tires did not have enough tread.
Officials released the findings after a preliminary examination of the motor coach body and wheels, said Earl F. Weener, a member of the National Transportation Safety Board.
The tires were from various manufacturers, and did not meet Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance inspection criteria.
Investigators are reviewing the histories of both drivers.
The USA Holiday bus had been returning from a casino with 43 occupants, including the driver, when it collided into a big rig on the 10 Freeway in Desert Hot Springs.
Sunday’s crash, the deadliest in the state in several decades, has focused attention on the bus owner and driver, Teodulo Elias Vides, and his company’s safety record.
Vides, 59, was among those who died in the early Sunday crash, and many of his customers who gathered at a makeshift memorial recalled him as a kind, jovial man.
“He’d tell us every time, ‘Before you gamble and lose your money, make sure you eat,’” said Maggie Monterroso, who began traveling to casinos on Vides’ bus nearly a decade ago. “He cared a lot about us.”
Investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board plan to examine Vides’ background, as well as a variety of other factors, including road conditions and lighting, an agency member said Monday.
Vides and his company had been sued after a USA Holiday bus crashed into a Honda Civic on the northbound 215 Freeway in Riverside in 2007.
The driver of the sedan and two of her passengers were killed. Their relatives sued Vides and the bus driver, Paulino Camacho Ceballos, the following year, alleging personal injury and negligence.
Lawyers for Vides, however, argued that the Honda was traveling at an “unreasonable rate of speed” and that the driver of the other vehicle lost control and ricocheted off the center divider wall. The case appears to have been dismissed after the plaintiffs failed to respond to discovery requests.
Vides had faced a similar earlier lawsuit when a USA Holiday bus collided with a car on the westbound 60 Freeway in Riverside in 2003. Two of the car’s passengers sued USA Holiday as well as Ceballos. The case was settled in 2006. The terms of the settlement were not disclosed in court documents.
USA Holiday received at least six “unsatisfactory” ratings from the California Highway Patrol, two of which were after inspections for controlled substances and alcohol testing requirements. Detailed reports were not immediately available.
Vides had also been cited in several counties for traffic violations, as well as by the California Public Utilities Commission in 2007 for operating with an expired permit.
USA Holiday was last inspected by federal transportation officials in April 2015 and received a satisfactory rating, according to FreightConnect, a private data provider. No issues with the coach or driver were reported.
According to federal records, USA Holiday is an Alhambra-based company that owns one bus and employs one driver.
Customers said Vides ran the business with his daughter and that his destinations included Las Vegas, Santa Barbara and San Diego.
He had been in the business for years, driving older passengers to casinos and sometimes parking the tour bus on the street near his apartment.
The bus was not equipped with seat belts and officials said when it ran into the back of the truck, victims were hurled into the air. As a result, their fatal injuries were consistent with those caused by striking blunt and jagged objects. CHP officials said the bus driver appeared to have made no attempt to brake.
An additional 31 people were injured, including the driver of the big rig. He was identified as Bruce Guilford, 50, of Covington, Ga.
The bus had been on its way to Los Angeles from Red Earth Casino in Thermal, near the Salton Sea.