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April 29, 2009

5 Killed as Tour Bus Overturns in California


SAN FRANCISCO — A bus carrying a group of tourists crashed on a California highway Tuesday afternoon, killing at least five people and leaving dozens injured.

The crash occurred around 3:20 p.m. on U.S. 101, the well-traveled north-south expressway that runs parallel to much of the California coast.

Fran Clader, a spokeswoman for the California Highway Patrol, said the bus had apparently struck a center divider on the four-lane highway in Soledad, a farm town about 115 miles south of San Francisco.

The vehicle skidded onto its side, ejecting several passengers, and killing at least four instantly.

“For an unknown reason, the driver lost control,” said Ms. Clader, who added that the patrol had sent two teams to investigate the crash.

At the accident scene, Officer Brian Wiest, a spokesman for the highway patrol, said that the crash had occurred on an overpass, and that several of those injured and killed had been ejected from the bus onto a street below.

Television reports showed the bus on its side with deep gashes and shattered windows.

The driver, who was not immediately identified, survived. Officer Wiest said it was not clear if the driver had been tested for drugs or alcohol.

More than 30 passengers were believed to have been injured, some seriously, Ms. Clader said, with patients taken to several hospitals. Ms. Clader said the passengers had boarded the bus in San Francisco, and were headed south, possibly to Santa Maria, a popular wine-tasting town in Santa Barbara County.

The bus made stops in Monterey and Carmel before the crash, which prompted a major rescue operation, including a fleet of eight helicopters and more than a dozen ambulances.

Ms. Clader said the bus was a charter operated by Orion Pacific, whose Web site identifies it as a family-owned company in Orange, near Anaheim. A line for “bus emergency” was busy on Tuesday evening.

Jacques de Noray, deputy counsel and press attaché for the French consulate in San Francisco, said the police had told his office that some French citizens may have been on the bus. Ms. Clader said the highway patrol believed the passengers were either French or French Canadian.

The crash is the second serious accident involving a tour bus in California in the last year. In October, nine people were killed and nearly three dozen injured when a bus bound for a casino in Northern California flipped north of Sacramento.