the westbound lanes of Interstate 10 at Indian Canyon Drive, one of the main interchanges into Palm Springs.
Canadians wintering in Palm Springs will know this highway to be a well-appointed and maintained, multi-lane, usually busy freeway, but that it happened at a time and day—5:00 am on Sunday October 23rd—when the highway is usually at its best for a safe uneventful drive: light traffic, clear visibility with open views of the road ahead.
Something caused a reportedly seasoned professional bus driver of a safety-checked tour bus traveling a well-known regular route between the Red Earth Casino in Salton Sea Beach and Los Angeles to slam the bus into the back of a tractor-trailer truck, embedding the front of the bus 15 feet into the back of the ‘big rig’. There were 43 ‘sleeping’ passengers and no one survived unharmed: 13 fatalities including the bus driver and 32 people injured, some sustaining only minor injuries (including the truck driver), the rest with significant injuries.
The injured requiring hospital treatment were taken to all three Coachella Valley hospitals: 14 to Desert Regional Medical Center, which has the Coachella Valley’s only trauma center; 12 with minor injuries to Eisenhower Medical Center; and 5 with minor injuries to the JFK Medical Center in Indio.
A spokesperson for the Desert Regional Medical Center said that as of Monday morning, “four patients remained in critical condition; one patient was in serious condition, and one was in fair condition and the others had been treated and released.” Trauma surgeon Dr. Ricard Townsend was quoted as saying that many patients came in with facial trauma requiring eye surgery, which often indicates they were not wearing seat belts. At the time of writing, whether the bus was equipped with seat belts is unknown.
At a news conference Sunday, California Highway Patrol Chief Jim Abele said officials had not determined why the bus was traveling at a much faster speed than the truck and that it was unclear “whether drugs or alcohol were involved, or whether fatigue was a factor.” He said a maintenance crew had slowed down traffic on Interstate 10 before the vehicles crashed and that “the work had gone smoothly for hours. … Right now we’re looking at everything. We may not determine how the accident occurred because the driver was killed.”
A report in the Desert Sun Newspaper says teams of specialists from the National Transportation Safety Board including a truck or bus mechanical expert, a highway engineer, and weather, human performance, and survival factors specialists will investigate and will “remain at the scene for as long as necessary. … It could take 18 months before a drafted report is sent to board members.”