Cause of California crash that killed 13 is unknown

A gambling tour bus slammed into the back of a semitrailer on Interstate 10, east of Palm Springs, early Sunday morning, killing 13 people and injuring 31. It was one of the deadliest vehicle crashes in California history. Here's a look at what we know.

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WHAT CAUSED THE CRASH?

The cause of the before-dawn crash is undetermined. The National Transportation Safety Board launched an investigation that is expected to take about a year. The California Highway Patrol is also investigating.

Jim Abele, the CHP's border division chief, said there is no evidence that the bus driver applied brakes, based on the absence of skid marks and power of the impact.

It is unknown how fast the bus was going but Abele has said it was traveling at "freeway speeds," perhaps 50 to 65 mph. The truck driver told authorities that he had slowed to about 5 mph because of utility work in the area. It is unknown what signage there was to warn motorists of the utility work, but the CHP has said there were no other accidents in the area that night.

NTSB board member Earl Weener said treads on four of the eight tires of the bus were worn below standards set by the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, a group of government agencies and private industry. The bus could have been placed out of service for that reason.

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WHO DIED?

The tour bus, which carried 42 predominantly Latino passengers and the driver, was returning to Los Angeles from an overnight gambling trip to the Red Earth Casino in a desolate, remote area on the Salton Sea, about 50 miles southeast of Palm Springs.

The 10 women and three men who died were all aboard the bus and believed to be seated near the front. They ranged in age from 50 to 72 years old, with average age of 63. They all lived in the Los Angeles area.

The bus driver " Teodulo Elias Vides, 59, of Los Angeles " was among the dead. The truck driver " Bruce Guilford, 50, of Covington, Georgia " suffered minor injuries.

Passengers paid $20 for round-trip transportation. The bus arrived at the casino around 11 p.m. Saturday and left five hours later.

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WHAT'S THE HISTORY OF THE BUS DRIVER AND HIS COMPANY?

Vides is the owner and sole driver of the tour bus company, USA Holiday, according to federal and state records. He had a valid commercial license and a clean record in recent years. The 1996 bus, which was not equipped with seat belts, had passed annual inspections.

Records kept by the CHP show that USA Holiday had been deemed unsatisfactory on several levels in the past, though it had not received that rating since 2010, when an unnamed company driver received an unsatisfactory rating overall and in relation to "controlled substance and alcohol testing results." The CHP retains records for four years, so original reports from 2010 and before no longer exist.

Cullen Sisskind, manager of the CHP's motor carrier safety program, said USA Holiday had past problems but appears to have self-corrected "and has had a very good record" over the past few years.

In 2011, Vides was pulled over for going more than 80 mph in a 70 mph zone. He was also cited for driving with a suspended license but the charge was dropped when Vides later produced a valid license.

USA Holiday reported that its bus and driver covered 68,780 miles in 2013, the year for which the most recent federal records are available. If the bus and driver worked five days a week, that would average 265 miles a day " about the round-trip distance from Los Angeles to the casino. The annual amount does not strike safety experts as high either for a single driver or wear-and-tear on the bus.

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WHAT'S NEXT?

The NTSB said it will consider a wide range of issues, including the drivers and their histories, condition of the vehicles, road conditions and whether the drivers were medically or visually impaired or under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

This story has been automatically published from the Associated Press wire which uses US spellings

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