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Charges filed for fatal Merced County bus crash
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The Merced County District Attorney’s Office has filed felony and misdemeanor charges against the bus driver who was behind the wheel in a collision that claimed four lives and wounded several more individuals last year near Livingston.

Four felony counts of vehicular manslaughter and five misdemeanor vehicle code violations were filed against Mario David Vasquez of Los Angeles on Monday in connection with the early morning bus crash on Aug. 2, 2016 outside Livingston that killed four people and resulted in serious injuries to eight passengers.

Vasquez, age 58, was driving a bus owned by Autobuses Coordinados USA, Inc. southbound on Highway 99 just south of Hammatt Avenue around 3:18 a.m. when the bus left the roadway and collided with a sign pole on northbound Highway 99. The poll split through the middle of the bus crushing rows of seats. In addition to the four fatalities, several of the injured passengers lost limbs to amputation.

The crash was investigated by the California Highway Patrol’s Multidisciplinary Accident Investigation Team from Fresno, which turned over its findings to the District Attorney’s office last week. The report indicated the defendant had been operating the motor coach since approximately 7:30 p.m. Aug. 1 in the area of Los Angeles.

The report did not indicate that Vasquez was on his cell phone at the time of the accident, but evidence from cellular phone records show that he used his cell phone numerous times while driving the 49-passenger motor coach through California, including a call a few minutes before the fatal crash, said Merced County District Attorney Larry Morse II.

The defendant’s log book, which is required for commercial drivers, indicated he had slept only 6.5 hours the previous day, although cell phone records contradict that he even slept that many hours, Morse said, noting that fatigue is believed to be a major factor in the crash.

Surviving passengers described Vasquez as looking tired or drowsy during travel and multiple drivers on Highway 99 in Merced County contacted investigators after the crash to report that the bus had been observed weaving shortly before driving off the highway.

The defendant was licensed as a California Class B commercial driver and had reportedly driven buses for 30 years, Morse said. The misdemeanor violations stem from the defendant’s falsification of his daily log book, failure to keep accurate records and violating laws relating to maximum driving time for commercial drivers. 

“Given their size and the potential dangers 18-wheelers and buses pose for other motorists, commercial drivers are appropriately held to the highest standards for safety under state law,” Morse said. “Mr. Vasquez’s extreme fatigue, violations of commercial regulations and repeated use of a cell phone while entrusted with the care of passengers demonstrated a gross dereliction of the duty he owed not just to his passengers, but to every motorist on Highway 99 that morning.”