Workers' Bus Flips, Man Killed, 24 hurt


Rachel Gordon | | Monday, April 6, 2009

SQUAW VALLEY, Calif. -- A shuttle bus carrying workers from Reno to their jobs at a Squaw Valley resort rolled twice on Interstate 80 near Truckee Saturday morning, killing a 25-year-old man and injuring 24 others, including the driver, authorities reported.

The bus accident occurred around 8:30 a.m. on westbound I-80 in a rural area about 20 miles west of Reno and 7 miles east of Truckee in California's Sierra Nevada.

The bus, owned and operated by Resort at Squaw Creek, was carrying 24 passengers and the driver, said Les Pedersen, a spokesman for the resort, located at the base of the Squaw Valley ski area, where the 1960 Winter Olympics was held.

"This has been a real tragedy," Pedersen said.

The bus was traveling on an uphill grade when witnesses reported it veered to the right, across the shoulder, crashed through the guard rail and flipped before landing in a ditch, said California Highway Patrol Officer Steve Skeen.

Several people were ejected from the bus, and others were trapped inside. Among those found outside the bus was 25-year-old Pablo Olivas of Reno, who died at the scene, authorities said. Olivas worked in housekeeping at the resort.

Rescue crews, using ambulances and helicopters, transported all others on the bus to hospitals in Reno, Truckee and Sparks, Nev., with those most seriously injured taken to Renown Regional Center in Reno, said Kevin Romero of the Regional Emergency Medical Services Authority in Reno.

At least two patients had been discharged by late Saturday afternoon and at least two were listed in critical condition. The injuries included broken bones, head wounds and abrasions, authorities said.

The accident happened as the close-knit Squaw Valley ski community was preparing to hold a memorial service today for extreme skier Shane McConkey, who lived and trained at Squaw Valley's Olympic Village. He died March 26 while performing a daring movie stunt in Italy that involved skiing off a cliff with a parachute.

And three weeks earlier, a Squaw Valley ski patrol member died as a result of being buried in an avalanche.

"It's been rough around here," Pedersen said.

Pedersen said that in response to Saturday's bus accident, the resort dispatched its top managers to the hospitals to offer assistance to the victims and their families.

The cause of Saturday's bus accident is still under investigation, Skeen said. He said the weather was clear and the roads were dry. And because the bus was traveling uphill, it is unlikely that excessive speed was a factor, he said.

There was a slight left curve on the section of freeway where the crash occurred. Skeen said it's possible that the driver missed the curve, as the bus crashed off the right shoulder. It is not believed that drugs or alcohol were a factor in the crash, but authorities have not ruled out the possibility, Skeen said.

Investigators have been talking to the hospitalized driver. His name was not released.

"He's been a great employee with a very good driver record," Pedersen said.

The bus, with seating for 31, was purchased abut 1 1/2 years ago and had no known mechanical problems, Pedersen said. The shuttle makes one round-trip excursion a day between Reno and Squaw Valley,

The crash was witnessed by several motorists, including an employee of Squaw Creek who was driving behind the bus carrying her colleagues and immediately notified the resort, Pedersen said.

Skeen, from the CHP, said the people who watched the calamity "were pretty distraught."

The four-lane highway remained closed for two hours in the eastbound direction and for several more hours in the westbound direction, as crews tended to the victims and investigators scoured the scene.

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