The relatives of two deceased passengers in a Palm Springs tour bus crash last month have filed suit. The crash, which took place in the desert east of Los Angeles, resulted in 13 fatalities–the deadliest California crash in decades. The first lawsuit, which alleges negligence and wrongful death, was filed in Los Angeles Superior Court by the families of Tony Mai and Gustavo Garcia. As defendants, the case names the bus company, USA Holiday, and the estate of Teodulo Elia Vides, the company owner and bus driver, who was killed in the crash.
The bus was taking gamblers back to Los Angeles from the Red Earth Casino. Investigators stated there was no indication that Vides applied the brakes before the bus collided with a refrigerated truck trailer. California Highway Patrol (CHP) officials said it was undetermined how fast the bus was traveling when it struck the other vehicle, but evidence suggests the bus was traveling faster than the truck. The CHP concluded that the truck was traveling at just 5 mph.
During its most recent inspection, the bus showed no defects. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is still investigating the crash. The NTSB recently announced the bus had overly worn tires that did not comply with federal regulations.
The magnitude of the incident has focused attention on USA Holiday’s safety record, and on independent coach operators that carry gamblers to casinos throughout the region. Vides had been sued at least twice for negligence following collisions, one of which killed three people.
Vides and USA Holiday were sued after the company’s bus collided with a sedan on a highway in Riverside in May 2007. The sedan’s driver and two passengers were killed. The family of one passenger sued Vides for negligence. Vides’ lawyers, however, argued that the driver was traveling unreasonably fast and lost control of her car. The lawsuit was dismissed.
Another lawsuit was filed after a USA Holiday bus crashed into another car on the 60 freeway in Riverside in 2003. Two passengers sued the company and the bus driver, claiming the bus was operated negligently. The case settled three years later.
Vides has also been cited for traffic violations in several counties. In 2005, Vides was cited for speeding in Riverside County. He was required to attend traffic school, which he did not complete according to court records. Vides was also cited by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) in 2007 for an expired permit. In May 2011, Vides was cited for speeding and driving with a suspended license on the 10 (near where the crash that killed him occurred). He failed to appear in court, and a bench warrant was issued. In 2011, Vides also received multiple citations in Santa Barbara County for lane straddling.
USA Holiday had also received at least six “unsatisfactory” ratings from the CHP. Specifically, it received such ratings in 2005, 2007, 2008, and 2010 in categories of maintenance, controlled substances, alcohol, driver, equipment, and terminal. The company was last inspected in April of last year and received a satisfactory rating.
Despite these issues, Vides was loved by many. Last month, dozens stopped to leave candles, flowers, and notes at a memorial in a place where Vides once cheerfully met customers. A longtime traveler with USA Holiday spoke highly of Vides. “He was always friendly, always jovial,” she said. “He cared a lot about us.”
The precise cause of the crash has not yet been determined. The NTSB’s report is not expected to be completed for several months.
The car accident lawyers at the Neumann Law Group represent victims of accidents throughout the Los Angeles area. Call us at (213) 227-0001 for a free consultation.
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