POSTED: Saturday, March 6, 2010 - 7:00am
UPDATED: Monday, March 8, 2010 - 1:12am
El Paso - The bus that travelled through El Paso and rolled over on a busy interstate outside Phoenix, killing six people and leaving 16 others injured early Friday, was operating illegally, federal transportation officials said.
The operator of the bus - Van Nuys, Calif.-based Tierra Santa Inc. - was told in April not "to engage in the interstate
transportation of passengers by commercial motor vehicle."
That notice, sent via certified mail, came just days after the company submitted an application to the Department of Transportation's Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to be a passenger carrier. The company's application was denied Dec. 14, federal officials said.
The bus in Friday's accident was traveling from the central Mexican state of Zacatecas to Los Angeles. It entered the United States at El Paso, Texas, and was traveling westbound on Interstate 10 with 22 passengers when it hit
a pickup, veered onto the left shoulder of the road, then overcorrected in the opposite direction and rolled once before landing on its wheels.
The roof of the bus was crushed and all of its windows were knocked out.
The crash occurred about 5:30 a.m. MST on the Gila River Indian Reservation near the community of Sacaton, some 25 miles south of downtown Phoenix. Two men and four women were thrown about 10 yards from the bus and killed.
Police said the rollover triggered a second accident when another pickup slowed and was hit by a sedan. One person from the car was taken to a hospital.
Arizona Department of Public Safety officials said their investigation will include whether the driver was fatigued, as well as the maintenance history of the bus.
Federal investigators were reviewing Tierra Santa's safety operations at the company's Van Nuys office.
A man who answered the phone Friday at Tierra Santa declined to identify himself, and said in Spanish that the company is meeting with authorities about the crash and he couldn't comment. He declined to answer when asked about whether the company was operating illegally.
Nine patients were in critical condition at Phoenix-area hospitals, some with injuries ranging from broken spines and pelvises to head injuries, according to the hospitals.
The driver of the bus was in serious condition. An 11-year-old boy was in guarded condition, and four people were in good condition. The condition of two more people at a local hospital was not released.
Alex Porras said his sister, Jasmine Porras, was coming back from a two-week vacation in Mexico.
The 25-year-old had just graduated from Arizona State University with a nursing degree and was hoping to start working soon, he said. She was critically injured.
"I was shocked when I got the call," a red-eyed Porras told The Associated Press at Maricopa Medical Center. "We're really worried."
Both westbound lanes of I-10 were closed for several hours near the scene of the wreck, which quickly became a mass of police and rescue personnel as ambulances arrived.
Medics set up a triage area in the middle of the interstate, and medical helicopters landed on the road to airlift the most critically injured to area hospitals.