Breaking News Emails

Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.
 / Updated 
By Elizabeth Chuck

At least five people were killed and more than two dozen others were injured when a charter bus swerved into a support pole in Northern California early Tuesday.

The pole pierced the bus, trapping some of the injured in their seats for hours, the California Highway Patrol said. It happened around 3:35 a.m. (6:35 a.m. ET) in Merced, Highway Patrol spokesman Moises Onsurez said.

At least 30 people, all of Mexican descent, were on board, and only four escaped unscathed, the Highway Patrol said. Fifteen people suffered serious to critical injuries, while a dozen more sustained lesser injuries.

Workers taking down a sign on the highway at the scene of a fatal bus crash Tuesday in Merced, California.Stephen Weeke

Among those hurt was the bus driver, Mario David Vasquez, 57, who sustained "major injuries," Onsurez said at a news conference.

Relatives told NBC Los Angeles that Vasquez was distraught over the recent death of his wife and hadn't been sleeping well. But they insisted that he wouldn't have driven if he was tired.

NBC Los Angeles: Driver in Deadly California Bus Crash Called 'Hardworking,' 'Responsible'

The bus, which was registered to Autobuses Coordinados, originated in Mexico and was traveling to Washington, Onsurez said. It had made several stops, including one in Los Angeles on Monday night, before the crash on northbound Highway 99.

Highway Patrol officials said no brake marks were seen at the scene, indicating that the driver crashed into the poll at full speed. The National Transportation Safety Board is sending a team to investigate.

Merced County Sheriff Vern Warnke told The Associated Press that several of those who were injured lost limbs, and he said rescuers brought out "bags of body parts" from survivors.

Scene from the fatal crash Tuesday of a bus that was on its way to Sacramento, killing five people on board.Courtesy of CHP Merced

Photos on social media showed the crumpled bus on the side of the highway, its side and ceiling torn open. Emergency personnel were seen using ladders to get to passengers.

Merced is an hour north of Fresno.