State, Federal Investigations Underway Into Deadly Bus Crash in San Jose | NBC Bay Area
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State, Federal Investigations Underway Into Deadly Bus Crash in San Jose

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    Maria De Jesus Ortiz Velasquez, 75, of Salinas was one of two passengers who died in a Jan. 19, 2016 bus crash in San Jose, which state and federal officials are investigating. Marianne Favro reports. (Published Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2016)

    State and federal investigations are underway into a deadly bus crash that killed two women Tuesday in the San Francisco Bay Area and tied up traffic on a busy highway until late in the evening.

    National Transportation Safety Board investigator Jennifer Morrison told reporters Wednesday a camera was recovered from the Greyhound bus that flipped onto its side during the rainy morning commute. She said the agency hasn't viewed the video yet.

    The two women killed — identified Wednesday by the Santa Clara County Coroner as 51-year-old Fely Olivera, of San Francisco, and 76-year-old Maria De Jesus Ortiz Velasquez, of Salinas — were thrown from the windows of the bus.

    As the two funerals were being planned, the California Highway Patrol's Coastal Division Multi-Disciplinary Accident Investigation Team geared up to lead the investigation into the fatal crash. At the same time, the NTSB began conducting a parallel investigation.

    State, Federal Investigations Underway Into Deadly Bus Crash in San Jose

    [BAY] State, Federal Investigations Underway Into Deadly Bus Crash in San Jose
    State and federal investigations are underway into a deadly bus crash Tuesday that killed two women thrown from the windows and tied up busy highway traffic until late in the evening. Kris Sanchez reports. (Published Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2016)

    Morrison said investigators hope to interview the driver, Gary Bonslater, 58, of Victorville, who reported being "fatigued" before the crash.

    Morrison declined to discuss possible causes of the wreck, saying she and seven other investigators arrived late Tuesday and have just started their inquiry. She says they'll examine the 2014 MCI motor coach for mechanical and structural defects while looking into road conditions and the driver's actions before the crash.

    Federal data show that officials inspected 1,882 Greyhound vehicles and 3,065 drivers over the past two years and that Greyhound buses were involved in six deadly accidents during that period. The deadly accidents do not include Tuesday's accident in San Jose.

    Authorities said Bonslater lost control of his rig around 6:30 a.m. Tuesday on U.S. Highway 101 at the state Route 85 connector in South San Jose. Nine of the 20 people on board, including Bonslater, were taken to the hospital. By Wednesday, all the patients had been released from three hospitals, except for one person, listed in good condition at Regional Medical Center of San Jose, officials said.

    Bonslater told the CHP he had not fallen asleep, but stopped for coffee before the crash in hopes it would make him more alert, officials said. Until Tuesday, he had a clean driving record. 

    "We do apologize," Greyhound spokeswoman Lanesha Gipson said. "Safety is the cornerstone of our business."

    While Gipson wouldn't speculate on whether the bus driver had been fatigued, she did say Greyhound requires that drivers get "nine hours of rest" after each 10-hour shift. 

    Larry Hanley, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union, which represents Greyhound bus drivers, told NBC Bay Area he did not have firsthand knowledge of the accident early Tuesday morning. Hanley did say that the union has been pushing Congress to include bus drivers in the Fair Labor Standards Act.

    On average, inter-city bus drivers earn about $13 an hour. They can work 70 hours a week and they get overtime pay past 40 hours, according to the union. Every 10 hours, they must take a break.

    According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, fatigue has contributed to about 3 percent of all fatal crashes nationwide since 2005. Thirteen percent of all big rig and bus crashes were caused by driver fatigue in 2006 and 2007.

    Lengthy shifts behind the wheel were also one of 2014's top violations for truckers and bus drivers, federal officials found. Most drivers have multiple jobs and are often fatigued, Hanley said.

    "There’s a crisis in America," Hanley said. "The bus industry is forcing drivers to work too many hours to make a living wage."

    Friends and family of anyone who was on Greyhound bus No. 6876 can call 1-800-972-4583 to check passengers' status.

    NBC Bay Area's Terry McSweeney, Kristofer Noceda, Marianne Favro, Michelle Roberts, Cheryl Hurd, Rhea Mahbubani and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

    Contact Lisa Fernandez at lisa.fernandez@nbcuni.com or 408-432-4758. Follow on Twitter at @ljfernandez