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13 killed after casino tour bus slams into semitrailer

Palm Springs, Calif. — A tour bus returning home to Los Angeles from a casino trip plowed into the back of a semitrailer on a California highway early Sunday, killing 13 people and injuring 31 others, authorities said.

A maintenance crew had slowed down traffic on Interstate 10 before the vehicles crashed just north of the desert resort town of Palm Springs, California Highway Patrol Border Division Chief Jim Abele said.

Abele said the bus carrying 44 passengers was going much faster than the truck, though a trauma surgeon said the injuries he saw indicated it was slowing down at the point of impact.

“The speed of bus was so significant that the trailer itself entered about 15 feet into the bus,” Abele told reporters. “You can see it was a substantial impact.”

It was not known if alcohol, drugs or fatigue played a role in the crash about 100 miles east of Los Angeles, but the bus was inspected in April and had no mechanical issues, Abele said. The bus driver was killed, and the truck driver received minor injuries.

The bus was coming from Red Earth Casino in the unincorporated community of Thermal and was about 35 miles into its 135-mile trip back to Los Angeles.

CHP officers had been slowing traffic to allow Southern California Edison workers to string wires across the freeway, Abele said.

Passengers told officials that most people were asleep when the crash occurred at 5:17 a.m. Abele said it appeared the 1996 bus didn’t have seat belts and likely didn’t have a black box that newer vehicles feature.

The front of the bus crumpled into the truck’s trailer and debris was scattered across the key route through Southern California. Firefighters used ladders to climb into the bus’ windows to remove bodies, and tow trucks lifted the trailer to make it easier to reach the bus, whose front end was demolished.

Fourteen patients were sent to Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs, the area’s only trauma center. Five were admitted in critical condition but were stable and in intensive care by Sunday afternoon, said Dr. Ricard Townsend, a trauma surgeon. Seven others had been released.

Many suffered facial injuries, a sign they were not wearing seat belts, he said.

He called the injuries unusual for a high-speed wreck — when you typically see broken bones — because the bus hit the collapsible trailer.