BLYTHE, Calif. — A bus rolling through a remote stretch of desert struck a load of metal pipes scattered across a dark California highway Wednesday, then slid down an embankment and overturned in an accident that killed four passengers and seriously injured at least seven others.
Only a minute or two before the collision, the pipes had tumbled from a flatbed truck that had jackknifed after drifting into the dirt median on Interstate 10, the main road linking Southern California and Arizona, the California Highway Patrol said.
It was the second serious crash in a month involving a truck and a passenger bus in California. In April, a big rig smashed head-on into a charter bus carrying high school students on a university visit, killing 10 people.
Wednesday's crash occurred about 2:15 a.m. just west of Blythe, near the Arizona border, where the eastbound truck's spilled cargo obstructed both lanes in each direction. The truck carried dozens of pipes, some as long as 50 feet. As of late Wednesday afternoon, the interstate remained closed.
The bus was about three-quarters through its 800-mile trip from El Paso, Texas, to Los Angeles. Authorities believe there were 33 passengers aboard, but they were checking that against the trip manifest. Seven passengers were seriously hurt and taken to hospitals, and 14 others sought evaluation of minor injuries, according to CHP Officer Jason Gerard.
Neither driver was hurt.
As the driver of the truck, whose identity was not released, tried to pass slower vehicles in an area with a 70 mph speed limit, he drifted onto the dirt shoulder and lost control, CHP Lt. Cmdr. Gustavo Guzman said.
Two eastbound passenger vehicles hit the pipes, though nobody was hurt in those crashes, Guzman said. About a minute later, the bus bore down.
Richard Lee of La Mirada was sleeping in the passenger seat of an SUV that hit the pipes before the bus did. He said he woke to two loud pops.
"When I found out about the casualties I felt very, very lucky that I survived," Lee told KABC-TV.