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Interstate 15 bus crashes: Charter buses passed recent inspections

A screencap of the broadcast by NBC-LA of a tour bus crash on Dec. 19, 2013, on Interstate 15 in Corona.
An image from NBC4 of a tour bus crash on Interstate 15 in Corona.

The two charter bus companies involved in separate fatal crashes Thursday had passed state inspections this year, according to a Highway Patrol spokesman.

Tayde Murgia of Van Nuys, 64, died when she was thrown from a charter operated by Five Star Bus Charter of Bell. Nineteen others were injured in that crash on a wet road on Interstate 15 near Fallbrook. The bus runs between Panorama City and the Valley View Casino in San Diego County.

A bus operated by Walnut-based Sina Coach crashed in Corona, killing Khang Tieu, 91, of Midway, injuring 22 other people. It was heading to the Orange County city of Westminster from the Pala Casino in Northern San Diego County.

"Both companies were, in their most recent ratings from the Highway Patrol, rated satisfactory," said Michael Kelley, who supervises the California Highway Patrol's motor carrier safety division in Los Angeles.

Kelley said the bus operated by Five Star was inspected in July. It's a small company with just two vehicles.

RELATED: 2 tour bus crashes kill 1, injure dozens on Interstate 15 (updated) 

Sina Coach, which operates 26 buses, was inspected in May. With a larger fleet, the CHP inspects only a portion of the fleet, Kelley said.

The cause of the crashes won't be known for a while, he said. "Was there anything mechanically wrong with the vehicle, did any parts fail, or is it going to be just driver issues, speed and weather and road conditions? We don't know that yet."

This week the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration announced completion of its "Operation Quick Strike," which shut down 52 bus companies nationwide for safety violations, including Salcido Tours of Los Angeles.

That company's buses were based in Mexico and will no longer be permitted into the U.S., Kelley said.

Federal regulators do not collect data on casino-related bus crashes separate from other charters, said Brian Antolin, a researcher specializing in the casino transportation business at DePaul University.

He said passengers can help keep their casino bus rides safe by traveling when the driver is most likely to be rested and alert, by keeping an eye on the driver and speaking up if his driving or equipment seems unsafe, and to raise those same concerns with staff at the destination casino.

Antolin said charter buses should have a Department of Transportation number on the side that passengers can quickly check online using the FMCSA's SAFER bus company search engine.

This story has been updated.