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Cause of deadly California bus crash unknown

The California Highway Patrol is investigating a bus crash in Merced County that claimed the lives of five passengers in the early morning hours of Aug. 2. The 57-year-old man behind the wheel of the charter bus, which had 30 people on board as it headed toward Washington state, lost control of his vehicle and struck a pole near Liberty Avenue on Highway 99 in Atwater at about 3:30 a.m. Reports indicate that helicopters were called in to transport the badly injured driver and at least six passengers to area hospitals.

While authorities said that the investigation into the accident had barely begun, media outlets pored over the safety records of the bus involved and its operator. The bus operator was rated as satisfactory by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration even though it had been cited for violating vehicle maintenance regulations 23 times since 2014. The records show that eight of these violations were so serious that inspectors ordered buses to be taken out of service. The bus involved in the Atwater crash had been cited for several safety violations less than four months ago.

Some speculated that driver fatigue may have played a role. A report from the National Transportation Safety Board revealed that 36 percent of bus crashes involve a fatigued driver while only 2 percent are caused by road conditions. Weather reports indicate that Highway 99 was clear and dry at the time of the accident.

Bus operators that do not adequately maintain their vehicles and bus drivers who remain behind the wheel past the point of exhaustion may face both criminal and civil sanctions when their reckless actions cause injury, loss or damage. Personal injury attorneys may scrutinize the findings of accident investigators as well as police reports and federal safety data before filing wrongful death lawsuits on behalf of the dependent family members of those killed in bus accidents.

Source: NBC Bay Area, "5 Dead in Tour Bus Crash in Merced County: CHP," Lisa Fernandez, Kevin Nious and Shawn Murphy, Aug. 2, 2016

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