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Sleep Apnea and Inadequate Traffic Plan Blamed for Deadly Casino Bus Crash

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An investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board, of the Oct.23 2016 crash of a 47-passenger 1996 MCI motor coach operated by USA Holiday, determined that the casino bus slammed into the rear of a stopped tractor-trailer at 75 MPH. The tour bus driver was killed in the bus crash along with 12 passengers who were on a return trip from the Red Earth Casino in Thermal California.

The NTSB also found that the fatal bus crash was likely the result of the truck driver's undiagnosed sleep apnea coupled with an inadequate traffic management plan by the state to control traffic in a work zone.

According to federal investigators, the police stopped the tractor-trailer along with other traffic, due to utility work. After the traffic began to move the truck remained stationary. The casino bus rammed the back of the trailer with such force that it plowed through 13 feet of the trailer and pushed the rig 71 feet forward on the roadway.

The probable cause of the crash, determined by the NTSB, was the inadequate transportation management plan in place by the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) for stopping traffic. A hazardous situation was created when the police could not detect the failure of the tractor-trailer to begin moving with the other traffic and did not provide any warning to the bus driver of the potential for stopped traffic in its path.

The NTSB also determined that the truck driver likely fell asleep while idling and failed to resume driving, due to an undiagnosed mild to severe sleep apnea. Despite being severely obese and at high risk, the driver had never undergone the recommended testing for the sleep disorder.

The Riverside County district attorney charged the truck driver with vehicular manslaughter and also ignoring a mandatory 34-hour resting period.

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The investigators also determined that the bus driver was driving with only four hours of sleep from about 6 p.m. on Oct. 21 to the time of the collision at 5:15 a.m. Oct. 23. He had slept three hours in the afternoon of Oct. 22 after working overnight, before driving to Red Earth Casino. He had an additional one-hour of sleep before the return trip, early on Oct. 23.

"In this crash, not one but two commercial vehicle drivers - people who drive for a living - were unable to respond appropriately to cues that other motorists acted on, said NTSB Chairman Robert L. Sumwalt. "Federal and state regulators, commercial motor carriers and professional drivers can do better. Given the stakes, they must do better."

Since the casino bus crash, at least 10 lawsuits have been filed by surviving victims or family members of the deceased and they are currently being consolidated.

Defendants in the cases include USA Holiday, Caltrans, Southern California Edison, Riverside County, Palm Springs and Desert Hot Springs. The defendants are accused in the civil suits for failure to provide adequate lighting or signage for the roadwork. According to court records, all accusations are denied.

Vititoe Law Group is a personal injury law firm specializing in commercial vehicle accidents as one of its primary areas of practice. If you or a loved one were injured or you lost a family member in a crash involving a truck or bus, reach out to Vititoe Law Group for a free consultation with an experienced bus accident attorney. You may be entitled to substantial compensation. Do not wait, as time to file a case is limited.

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