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Tour Bus Crash in Central California Kills 5, Injures Dozens

April 29, 2009

SOLEDAD, CA --- A bus carrying French tourists flipped and rolled over on a U.S. 101 overpass near Soledad, Calif., on Tuesday afternoon, killing the driver and four passengers and injuring dozens of others. 

According to press accounts, the bus was operated by Orion Pacific Tour Bus Co., a Weeks Enterprises business based in Orange County. Authorities said the bus apparently began the day in San Francisco. Later in the day, the bus made stops at Monterey and Carmel, and was scheduled to make an overnight stop in Santa Maria.

The single-vehicle accident occurred at 3:23 p.m., according to the California Highway Patrol. The bus driver apparently veered into a railing on an overpass. When emergency crews arrived, the bus was on its side, with luggage and clothing strewn across the highway, the Los Angeles Times reported.

All the accident survivors needed medical attention. Eight helicopters and 14 ambulances carried the injured to local hospitals. A total of 36 people were onboard the bus, including 34 French tourists, the group's Canadian tour guide and the driver. Three victims died at the scene, and two were pronounced dead at hospitals.

According to the Associated Press, the bus driver was identified as John Egnew, 69, of Corona. He died of head and neck injuries after being thrown from the bus.

Police records show that Egnew was also involved in an accident back in 2005, in which the bus he was driving struck a female pedestrian while she and her husband were crossing the street in Las Vegas, AP reported. That bus was also owned by Weeks Enterprises.

The victim of the earlier accident was Joan Smith of Delton, Mich. She and her husband reached a $750,000 settlement with Weeks Enterprises last year, Smith's attorney Kevin Lancaster told the AP. The attorney said his client suffered brain injuries and a fractured pelvis. Egnew pleaded no contest in April 2006 to one misdemeanor count of starting improperly from a stopped position.

Orion Pacific last underwent a comprehensive audit of its fleet and safety practices in December 2006 and drew a "satisfactory" rating -- the highest rating possible, AP reported.

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