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Monroe man was driver in bus crash that killed 6

Tom Greenwood
The Detroit News

The crash of a charter bus in Arkansas that killed six Mexican migrant workers traveling from Michigan to Texas early Friday was so severe that it ripped off the vehicle’s roof and ejected passengers into the interstate, authorities said.

Six people also were transported to local hospitals with minor injuries, according to the Arkansas State Police in Little Rock.

Police said the 22 people traveling from Monroe to Laredo, Texas, included 19 migrant workers and three employees of Vasquez Citrus & Hauling, a provider of foreign farm labor through a federal visa program based out of Lake Placid, Florida.

The driver, Roberto Vasquez, 28, told investigators his residence is in Arcadia, Florida, but his driver’s license listed his address as Monroe, an Arkansas state police spokesman said.

Police on Friday evening released a list of the survivors, residents of Mexico and Florida who ranged in age from 19 to 43. The names of those killed are being withheld until all of the families have been notified, police said.

The bus was traveling west on Interstate 40 near the U.S. Highway 167 interchange about 1 a.m. Friday when it struck a concrete barrier on the north side of the interstate. Police added the crash occurred during light rain and 60 degree temperatures.

“The bus continued along the barrier until it struck the overpass,” Arkansas State Police Maj. Mike Foster said. “Then it slid for a few more hundred feet before coming to a stop.”

Of those who died, three were thrown from the bus, one was partially ejected and the other two died inside, said Col. Bill Bryant, the head of the Arkansas State Police.

The interchange is a bit tricky, requiring drivers to change lanes if they want to follow the route numbers that brought them into the interchange. Drivers have about a minute to chart a course and execute it.

According to authorities, Vasquez, 28, of Monroe survived the crash and has been given a toxicology test to see if drugs or alcohol were involved.

“But at this point, there’s no indication that was part of this accident,” said Foster, who indicated that Vasquez did speak English.

According to police, the situation was complicated by the fact that most of the passengers didn’t speak English.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers also were called in, but only to help local authorities communicate with the Spanish-speaking survivors, according to ICE spokesman Bryan Cox. He said his agency was not pursuing any kind of criminal investigation of the people involved.

Injured passengers were taken to University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences Hospital and to Baptist Hospital, where they were treated and released.

The American Red Cross of Arkansas has provided them with food and shelter at a local motel. Later, they will help provide the survivors with transportation to continue their journey.

The American Red Cross was also providing mental health services to those who escaped injury.

“As you can imagine, people are pretty shaken by this,” Regional Communications Director Brigette Williams said.

Jeff Lawson, owner of Michigan-based Continental Charters, confirmed to The News he was the previous owner of the bus but that he had sold it on Saturday.

“I’ve been advised not to say too much but I did sell the bus last Saturday,” said Lawson, whose bill of sale to a company called Vasquez Citrus & Hauling contained a condition that the Continental name be removed from the vehicle.

Lawson said he sold the bus to a man who “said he needed a second bus to haul people from (Detroit) to Texas… and Florida.”

Lawson said the bus he sold is a 1997 Van Hool that was most recently inspected by his company in February or March.

Michigan Department of Transportation spokesman Michael Frezell said the bus had passed all of its annual inspections since 2009, as required under state law. Frezell said the bus was last inspected in April and that transportation officials did not know what condition it was in when it was sold.

Michigan officials said that they do not have any records of Vasquez Citrus & Hauling Inc. as a registered company in the state. Juan Vasquez is listed in Florida records as the registered agent and owner. Vasquez could not be reached for comment on Friday and the business phone for the company went unanswered.

According to a California-based transportation logistics company Quick Transport Solutions, which also tracks crash reports involving trucking companies, vehicles for Vasquez Citrus & Hauling Inc. were involved in at least three accidents in Florida since 2013, but the information could not be confirmed by Florida officials.

In Monroe, farmworker jobs for Vasquez Citrus & Hauling were being processed through the The Michigan Works Monroe Service Center. Representatives from the service center could not be reached for comment Friday. The jobs were advertised at $11.56 an hour for a contract beginning Jan. 15 and running through Nov. 30.

Arkansas State Police had closed freeway for several hours while investigators analyzed the crash scene.

National Transportation Safety Board spokesman Eric Weiss added the agency is conducting an investigation separate from the police investigation, and will look at safety issues related to the crash.

He said investigators will focus on driver fatigue and how passengers were protected in the early Friday morning crash, but may look into other issues once they get on the scene.

Weiss didn’t have a specific time line for how long the investigation would take.

“This is a tragedy,” Bryant said. “Our hearts go out to them.”

tgreenwood@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2023

Leonard Fleming, Kim Kozlowski and The Associated Press contributed.

Survivors

Roberto Vasquez, 28, of Arcadia Florida (Driver)

Mercio Reyes, 20 of Texcapa, Hidalgo, Mexico

Eleazar Cruz, 23, of Texcapa, Hidalgo, Mexico

Santos Reyes, 35, of Texcapa, Hidalgo, Mexico

Norberto Alvarez, 29, of Texcapa, Hidalgo, Mexico

Israel Galindo, 32, of Tehuacán, Puebla, Mexico

Samuel Cabriales, 43, of Galeana, Nuevo Leon, Mexico

Cristina Arzola, 23, of Huajuapan de León, Oaxaca, Mexico

Rodolfo Meza Sr., 43, of Lake Placid, Florida

Rodolfo Meza Jr., 20, of Lake Placid, Florida

Francisco Ponciano, 23, of Tepehuacán de Guerrero, Hidalgo, Mexico

Miguel Angel Tecuaque, 20, of Tezonapa, Veracruz, Mexico

Margarito Hernandez, 24, of Tezonapa, Veracruz, Mexico

Alejandro Marcos, 19, of Tecapa, Hidalgo, Mexico

Mooises Luis-Velasquez, 21, of Tepehuacán de Guerrero, Hidalgo, Mexico

Julio Cesar (age and city of residence unknown)