At least five people have died following a Tuesday morning bus crash in California, USA Today reports. The bus, which was carrying 25 people, was headed north towards Pasco, Washington when it collided with a sign pole. The force of the accident reportedly caused the sign pole to shear the bus in half, almost to the center.
The bus had started in Mexico and made stops in Los Angeles and Livingston before moving toward Sacramento. At the time of the accident—around 3:35 am local—there were 25 people onboard. In addition to the five fatalities, up to 16 others were injured, with at least six taken to hospital with varying injuries including missing limbs. Only four people on the bus escaped with no injuries. Authorities expect the death toll to increase.
The bus drove off the road and hit a sign for the Hammatt Avenue exit near Livingston, California, according to the Los Angeles Times. The weight of the bus and the force of the accident kept the bus moving after it collided with the pole, causing the pole to split the bus down the center.
Merced County Sheriff Vern Warnke told The Associated Press that “bags of body parts” from the survivors were removed from the crash scene.
The cause of the crash is under investigation. Driver Mario David Vasquez, reportedly from Los Angeles, also suffered major injuries in the accident. The bus is operated by Autobuses Coordinados USA and had valid registration through August 31.
According to documents obtained by Fox News, however, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) cited the company for 44 maintenance violations in 26 inspections. The bus involved in Tuesday’s crash was found to have three violations including problems with the brake warning device, prohibited seating, and issues with repair parts.
The FMCSA keeps track of large truck and bus crashes and notes that of all bus accidents, intercity buses accounted for fewer fatal accidents from 2004 to 2014 than school buses or transit buses. According to its data, intercity buses accounted for 13 percent of all buses involved in fatal crashes, while school buses accounted for 41 percent and transit buses accounted for 33 percent of fatal crashes. Meanwhile, from 2013 to 2014, the number of buses involved in fatal crashes decreased from 282 to 234.
From 1975 to 2014, the number of buses involved in fatal crashes yearly has remained between around 230 and 330, but the number of registered buses has almost doubled, from around 462,000 to around 872,00, according to FMCSA data.
There have been mass fatalities on US bus crashes, however. In 1999 a bus carrying 46 people from New Orleans to a Mississippi casino resort crashed, killing more than 20 people and injuring approximately 20 more.