Williams, CA Tour Bus Accident, Oct 2008
NORTHERN CALIFORNIA BUS CRASH LEAVES TEN DEAD.
Williams, Calif. - A bus driver with a string of motor vehicle offenses and a history of substance abuse was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence Monday, hours after his casino-bound charter bus ran into a ditch, killing ten people.
Investigators also said the bus had an invalid license plate, and they were looking into whether the driver had proper permits to operate the vehicle. The bus ran off the road Sunday while taking passengers to a northern California casino. About 30 people were injured.
Records show 52-year-old QUINTIN WATTS of Stockton had been cited for speeding and other violations that resulted in loss of his license for nearly two years.
He regained his driving privileges last January.
WATTS was arrested as he lay critically injured in his hospital bed. His mother said he had wrestled with drug and alcohol problems, was jailed seven times on drug charges and had smashed a car carrying a friend into a tree a few years ago, though neither was seriously hurt.
He was a longtime truck driver, but had been unable to find a trucking job since being released from jail on a domestic violence charge six months ago, his mother said.
Chaney Mae Watts said she believed the crash came on her son's first day behind the wheel of the bus after several training trips watching the owner drive.
She and her husband told their son they were uncomfortable with him driving a vehicle that carried people instead of cargo.
"He wasn't the best driver," she said.
"He knew we didn't want him to drive."
The accident was at least the eighth serious crash in the U.S. in the last three years involving buses carrying people to and from casinos.
Authorities were investigating whether prescription or nonprescription drugs or alcohol, or a combination, were involved in the crash. Blood test results are not expected for two to six weeks.
"We believe he was driving under the influence of something. That's why we placed him under arrest," said California
Highway Patrol spokesman Robert Kays. Another CHP spokesman, Patrick Landreth, said any criminal proceedings would be on hold while the driver is treated for his major injuries.
Colusia County District Attorney John Poyner said Monday it will be at least two to three months before the full accident reports are available and any criminal charges are made.
The bus carrying the driver and 42 passengers, many Laotian, was heading to the Colusa Casino Resort. According to a witness, it drifted a rural two-lane road before the driver "overcorrected" and swerved back. The bus ejected some passengers as it rolled and crushed others, Landreth said.
"The roof was collapsed down, the windows were broken out, and the bus was not only rolled over onto its side, it rolled completely over," Landreth said.
"It was facing the opposite direction and it was on its wheels."
Families flooded hospitals looking for relatives who may have been involved in the crash.
Yvonne Haynes, 35, of Merced got a phone call Sunday night from her brother Tou Xiong, 29, saying there had been a bus accident. They started calling hospitals looking for their mother.
"We couldn't find her," said Xiong. "She
came in as a Jane Doe. Her pulse was lost in the accident and she did not have any ID."
Finally, at 3 a.m. the siblings found their mother at UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento has a broken rib, face and right wrist and with the tubes in her mouth, she cannot speak, said Haynes.
"She squeezed my hand so I know she hears me," said Haynes.