Bus crash kills 7 tourists south of Hoover Dam
8 victims airlifted to two Las Vegas hospitals; 5 battling life-threatening injuries
Published Fri, Jan 30, 2009 (3:56 p.m.)
Updated Sat, Jan 31, 2009 (1:03 a.m.)
UPDATED STORY: Investigators sift though evidence in fatal tour bus crash
Seven Chinese tourists died and another nine were injured after a tour bus traveling to Las Vegas crashed Friday afternoon south of the Hoover Dam in Arizona.
Six people died at the scene, although the death toll climbed after one person died Friday evening at University Medical Center in Las Vegas, a hospital spokeswoman said.
The tour bus overturned at about 3:04 p.m. Las Vegas time on U.S. 93 north of Dolan Springs, Ariz., on a four-lane divided highway about 27 miles south of the Hoover Dam. The bus, a 2007 Chevrolet Starcraft, was from San Gabriel, Calif.,-based DW Tour & Charter.
The bus overturned and came to rest on its right side, said Lt. James Warriner of the Arizona Department of Public Safety. The bus was coming from the west rim of the Grand Canyon.
Police cars from the Arizona Highway Patrol, the National Park Service and Golden Valley Fire Department were at the scene, and bodies were laid on the ground covered in tarps Friday evening. The tour bus was lying on its side with the front of the bus ripped off.
Five patients were transported by air ambulance to the Las Vegas trauma center at University Medical Center. An 8-year-old boy was taken to UMC's Pediatric Emergency Room in serious condition, UMC spokesman Rick Plummer said.
Plummer said one person, a man in his 40s, died at the hospital about 5:30 p.m. Friday. The other victims taken to UMC included a 61-year-old man in critical condition, a 48-year-old man in critical condition, a 35-year-old woman in serious condition and another woman whose condition wasn't available.
An 18-year-old woman and a man in his 50s initially taken to Kingman Regional Medical Center in Arizona were airlifted Friday night to Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center in Las Vegas. Both were in critical condition, a hospital spokeswoman said.
Three other patients were taken to Kingman Regional, where they remained Friday night. A total of five people at UMC and Kingman Regional have life-threatening injuries, Warriner said.
Several helicopters arrived at UMC Friday evening, with two of the helicopters landing in a nearby parking lot, where patients were transferred to ground ambulances then to the trauma unit.
Dean Nyhart, commander for the northern division of the Arizona Highway Patrol, said investigators will fingerprint the crash victims and compare physical features with photographs found in passports.
UMC brought in Chinese interpreters from Tzu-chi Foundation of Las Vegas to talk to the patients. Interpol also was helping with translations.
Arizona authorities initially had reported that 22 passengers were on the bus, but later said the number was 16. Officials said the confusion was created by language barriers and patients who were taken from the scene for hospital treatment.
Sgt. Tom Eaves, of the Arizona Highway Patrol, said the bus had capacity for 24 passengers and those on board were Chinese tourists.
Eaves said the bus was headed north and began to veer, then flipped over when it hit the dirt median. Some of the passengers were ejected.
Betty Wang, a volunteer Chinese translator who was summoned to the hospital to help communicate with the injured passengers, said the driver of the bus is one of the injured who was transported to UMC.
She said his body was covered in gauze and he had suffered severe facial injuries. Wang said the man couldn't speak and could only communicate by nodding his head.
He was asked if he was the driver of the bus after a commercial drivers license was found in his wallet, she said. Wang said she tried to ask him what caused the crash, but he couldn't respond. He indicated that his wife and a 19-year-old son or daughter also was aboard the bus.
At least three other passengers on the bus were transported to UMC. Another translator, Emily Chu, said she talked to a 47-year-old woman who was on the bus with her husband, father and uncle. They all are from Shanghai, China.
The woman had broken ribs and no feeling in her legs, Chu said. She also suffered cuts on her legs and scratches on her face, she said.
The tourists came from Shanghai to San Francisco, where they caught the tour bus, and were en route to Las Vegas from the Grand Canyon. Speed does not appear to be a factor, Warriner said.
Because of a language barrier at the scene, it was difficult to get more details from passengers about what happened, Eaves said. The highway patrol’s Phoenix-based vehicular crime unit was en route to the scene to continue the investigation because of the number of fatalities involved, said Marty Harnisch, of the Arizona Highway Patrol.
Harnisch said investigators will map the scene and do a thorough inspection of the vehicle to determine whether there was criminal negligence.
The bus company, DW Tour & Charter of San Gabriel, Calif., was licensed by the California Public Utilities Commission on July 8, 2008. The company was cited on Oct. 27, 2008, but the details of the citation weren't available.
Eaves said a motorcyclist avoided the crash but spun out of control and possibly broke his leg.
Along that stretch of U.S. 93, near Rosie’s Den, there is a lot of weekend commuter traffic between Las Vegas and Phoenix, so it has a fair share of crashes, Eaves said.
Bus travel to and from Las Vegas accounts for about 8 percent of the 40 million visitors arriving in Las Vegas, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.
About 56,000 to 60,000 buses bring tourists to Las Vegas each year.
A Greyhound Lines Inc. crash in July 2001, 50 miles northeast of Las Vegas injured 36 passengers and the driver, who died later. Passengers reported that driver Jerry Davis had been visibly exhausted and had stopped twice to refresh himself with fresh air and coffee.