A Greyhound bus drifted off a freeway, rolled and then slid at least 100 yards on its side before hitting a tree Sunday, killing a pregnant woman and another passenger, authorities said.
Officials said driver fatigue may have contributed to the crash. The previous night, the driver had traveled from Fresno to Los Angeles, then left Los Angeles shortly after 3 a.m. Sunday. He had been on the road for about four hours when the bus overturned.
Dozens of passengers among the 44 people aboard the San Francisco-bound bus were hurt, at least seven of them with major injuries.
Rescuers had to use hydraulic equipment to cut away seats and the metal frame of the bus to reach four of the survivors, authorities said.
Faro Jahani, 50, of San Francisco, and Martha Contreras, a 23-year-old Santa Maria resident who was seven months pregnant, were killed in the crash, said Lt. Dan Minor of the California Highway Patrol.
Firefighters had to cut through nearly all the framework of the bus just to reach Contreras, who was trapped by a support beam. They couldn’t save her fetus, said Santa Barbara County Fire Capt. Keith Cullom.
“They were dead before we ever got to them,” Cullom said.
Driver fatigue may be to blame
A preliminary investigation gave no indication of mechanical problems, and the bus driver didn’t appear to have been impaired by alcohol or drugs, Minor said.
“We do have reason to believe that driver fatigue may have been a significant factor,” he said.
The bus drifted off Highway 101 in Santa Maria about three miles from its intended off-ramp and came to rest on its right side a few feet down an embankment after striking a eucalyptus tree shortly after 7 a.m.
The driver, identified as Samuel Henry Bishop, 63, of Fresno was taken to a hospital with minor injuries.
Kim Plaskett, a spokeswoman for the Dallas-based bus line, said Greyhound drivers are trained in fatigue management and are told to immediately pull over if they are too tired to drive.
“We are voluntarily stricter on hours of service than the Department of Transportation requires,” Plaskett said. “They require ten hours between driving assignments. We require eleven.”
Greyhound drivers also are limited to 9½ hours of service in a 24-hour period. Plaskett said the drive from Fresno to Los Angeles is about 4½ hours, from Los Angeles to San Luis Obispo, where another driver was scheduled to take over the bus, is about four hours.
Both northbound lanes of Highway 101, one of the state’s major corridors, were shut down through mid-afternoon as the California Highway Patrol investigated.
Three buses were sent to Santa Maria, about 75 miles north of Santa Barbara, to pick up passengers able to continue the trip, said Kim Plaskett, a spokeswoman for the Dallas-based bus line.