Federal regulators critized for lax tour bus oversight

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SAN DIEGO – The head of the National Transportation Safety Board chastised federal regulators Thursday for lax oversight of the tour bus and commercial trucking industry, citing in particular a deadly San Bernardino County bus crash in which the driver lost control, struck an embankment and overturned.

In the Feb. 3 accident on California Highway 38, investigators found that all of the brakes on the bus were defective in some way, and that if the vehicle had been stopped for a roadside inspection, it surely would have been removed from service.

Tour bus crash

Credit: Los Angeles Times

Instead, on that Sunday evening, the bus carried 40 passengers returning to Mexico after a day trip to Big Bear. The bus, owned and operated by Scapadas Magicas, was heading downhill near Yucaipa and the driver had difficulty slowing the vehicle. The bus clipped a Saturn sedan and rolled onto its side, then struck an oncoming pickup truck.

Seven passengers on the bus were killed and nearly a dozen were seriously injured. The driver of the truck also died.

In January, shortly before the crash, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration inspectors had completed a review of Scapadas Magicas, based in National City on the Mexican border.

The company had an “alert” indicating vehicle maintenance problems, according to the NTSB. But no buses and few business records were inspected, because they were in Tijuana, where much of the company’s business was conducted .

The NTSB found that Scapadas Magicas had been deemed by regulators to be an “imminent hazard” and was slapped with an out-of-service order only after the deadly crash.

It was not clear if Scapadas Magicas is still in business.

A woman who answered the telephone number previously associated with the company said they still offer bus transportation to popular Southern California destinations such as Disneyland and several Indian casinos. But the woman, who declined to provide her name, denied any association with Scapadas. She said the operator’s current name is Acetour.

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