ATWATER, Calif. (AP) – Fernando Ramírez and Petra Carillo Ruiz were headed from Mexico to Washington to visit a daughter they hadn't seen in many years — but the married couple were among the four people killed when a bus slammed into a highway sign in California's Central Valley, authorities said. Twenty-three people were injured.
Ramírez, 57, and Carillo Ruiz, 64, were known to nearly everyone in their hometown of Villa Juárez, Nayarit because they lived across from the small town's central plaza, said one of their neighbors, Natalia Torrayo García.
"Everyone is very sad because of the news," Torrayo García told the Merced Sun-Star on Wednesday. "They were very humble people, very hardworking."
The couple had a 12-year-old niece traveling with them Tuesday who was only slightly hurt and hadn't seen their daughter, who lives in Pasco, Washington, in a dozen years, the newspaper reported.
The dead also included José Morales Bravo, 58, who lived most recently in Avalon, California, but came from Concepción de Buenos Aires in the state of Jalisco, Mexico, according to relatives. His wife was hospitalized in the crash.
Eva Maria Morales wept as she talked about her father, José Morales Bravo.
"He was a good father," she told The Associated Press in Spanish from her home on Santa Catalina Island, off the Los Angeles coast. "He loved being with his children."
She said her parents made sure to visit all their children at least once a year and had most recently left Catalina for Washington state, where two of them live. Morales said her mother is expected to survive.
Also indentified was Jaime De Los Santos, 38, of Tijuana, Mexico. Relatives describe him as a devoted family man with four children.
The identities were released as investigators started piecing together what led to the crash early Tuesday. Among the possible factors being examined are driver fatigue and mechanical problems," said Don Karol, a senior highway accident investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board.
Such fatigue is a natural place to look considering the collision happened around 3:30 a.m., said Henry Jasny, senior vice president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety.
"We're daytime creatures," Jasny said. "Our bodies want to sleep at night."
After 10 hours continuously behind the wheel, bus drivers must be off for eight hours. Truckers are allowed to drive 11 hours, but have longer required rest periods at 10 hours.
It's unclear how long driver Mario David Vasquez, 57 of the Los Angeles area, had been behind the wheel. Investigators have not been able to interview him because of his injuries, California Highway Patrol Officer Moises Onsurez said.
Federal rules for bus drivers need to change, Jasny said.
"The consequences are very serious in terms of the numbers of lives at stake on a bus," he said.
There were 27 people, including the driver, aboard when the bus struck an exit sign post amid San Joaquín Valley farmland, officials said. Of the survivors, seven suffered major injuries, and 16 had minor to moderate injuries.
Investigations into such crashes can last months before a probable cause is determined.
The probe will also look into possible distractions or medical issues the driver suffered, as well as other drivers or hazards in the road and whether the bus company had a culture of safety problems.
Officials said they want to give answers to the survivors and the relatives of those killed as well as make bus travel safe.