Phoenix, AZ Converted Bus Crash Into Tree, Jun 1959



Phoenix - (AP) - Sixteen farm laborers were killed and 32 others were injured when a crudely fashioned bus crashed into a tree and exploded near Phoenix today.
The highway patrol, which had difficulty determining the number of charred and cremated bodies in the twisted wreckage, listed these figures as official but said there may be more dead.
All the victims were Mexican Nationals.
Many of the injured were reported in serious condition with burns and broken bones.
The highway patrol quoted the driver, NATO MANUEL GLORIA, JR., as saying he dozed at the wheel. GLORIA said he had been feeling sleepy and was going to stop at an intersection 100 yards ahead to turn the driving over to his assistant.
The driver escaped serious injury.
The workers were en route from a labor office at Mesa, to the garlic fields at Tolleson, west of Phoenix.
The truck, which had been converted into a bus with sides and a top, left Baseline Road, a main suburban thoroughfare just south of the Phoenix city limits, plowed through a ditch and smashed into a tree.
Patrolmen said the head-on crash burst the vehicle's gas lines and caused an explosion.
Elmer Charbeneau, who lives near the scene, said the explosion awakened him.
"It sounded like a loud clap of thunder," he said. "I ran to the window and saw flames spread over the entire bed of the bus. Then I heard screaming."
"I ran outside. By the time I got there, most of those who could get out were wandering in a nearby field or were stretched out in the ditch."
"By the time anyone got there to help, there was nothing they could do."
The converted truck had only one exit from the bed, a single door at the rear.
Charbeneau said he saw many of the laborers jumping out the door.
Witnesses said all those who escaped appeared to be in a state of shock as they wandered about the field aimlessly.
Emergency facilities at Memorial Hospital were overtaxed and some of the less seriously injured were stretched out on tables and chairs in a waiting room.
Two survivors told of the scramble to get out the door of the bus and how the laborers had to fight their was around a big water barrel and a pile of suitcases near the door.
"I was sitting near the door when I felt the crash. It knocked me to the floor. The whole bed was afire."
"Three or four men jumped over me and out the door. I crawled to the door and rolled out into the ditch."
"Some of the men were asleep on the floor under the benches. The never had a chance to get out."
ARTURO LUNA, 28, said, "It was very difficult to get to the door because suitcases were piled beside it and a big water barrel was in the way."
The accident was the worst traffic crash in Arizona history.
The National Safety Council said the crash might be classified as either a truck or a bus accident. Its records showed the highest toll in a truck hitting a stationary object was four in 1950. The worst bus accident under similar conditions took 23 lives in 1931.

Tucson Daily Citizen Arizona 1959-06-08