DA: Driver in deadly bus crash wasn’t intoxicated

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Posted on 14th October 2008 by gjohnson in Uncategorized

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Date: 10/14/2008 7:13 PM

By JUDY LIN
Associated Press Writer


SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) _ Toxicology tests show that the driver of a charter bus that crashed on a rural Northern California road, killing nine, was not drunk or on drugs at the time, prosecutors said Tuesday.

Quintin Watts, 52, was released from the hospital and taken into law enforcement custody after he was released Tuesday morning from the hospital where he had been recovering from the Oct. 5 crash. He was being held on suspicion of driving without a proper license at a Tracy prison while authorities continued their investigation.

The California Highway Patrol initially arrested Watts on suspicion of driving under the influence after the bus overturned on a two-lane road. Many of the 42 passengers heading to Colusa Casino Resort were Laotian seniors, and some remain hospitalized.

Watts’ mother, Chaney Mae Watts, 77, of Stockton, said her family never believed reports that he had been driving under the influence. She said her son fell into a diabetic coma and regained consciousness only a few days ago.

“We’re all really sorry that the accident happened,” she said. “When they said DUI, it wasn’t the boy I know. It wasn’t the boy I raised.”

Chaney Mae Watts noted that her son had a history of health problems related to diabetes, including a trip to the hospital last spring when he appeared impaired because of low blood sugar.

Colusa County District Attorney John Poyner said Tuesday that the toxicology tests came back negative.

“At this point I don’t know if the bus was defective. I just know he didn’t have any drugs or alcohol in his system,” Poyner said. “It could be anything from an accident that is very unfortunate or, if he committed gross negligence that could lead to manslaughter charges. I don’t know if he fell asleep.”

Quintin Watts, who previously had served time on various drug, theft and weapons charges, was a longtime truck driver, but had been unable to find a trucking job since being released from jail, according to his mother.

Watts told his family that he had been training to drive a bus, and the day of the crash was his first one behind the wheel, she said. The owner of the bus was among those killed.

Chaney Mae Watts said she spoke to her son for the first time since the crash by phone on Sunday. She said the first words he said to her: “Momma, you know I’m sorry.”

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press.

Fatal crash highlights lure of casinos for seniors

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Posted on 8th October 2008 by gjohnson in Uncategorized

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Date: 10/8/2008 9:17 PM

By JUDY LIN
Associated Press Writer


SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) _ The casinos run by American Indian tribes in Northern California work to attract lonely seniors on fixed incomes by offering cheap transportation on charter buses like the one that crashed over the weekend, killing eight people and injuring dozens.

The casinos also provide free meals and complimentary slot machine play to the thousands of seniors who have helped fuel the industry over the past decade. Some seniors fund the excursions with their Social Security checks and return home worrying about not being able to cover basic living expenses.

“Every single time, they always complain they don’t have money,” said Pa Phang, 37, whose 87-year-old father-in-law Xee Hue Vang died in Sunday’s crash an hour north of Sacramento. Her mother-in-law, Mao Lee Yang, 75, remains hospitalized.

Phang, whose in-laws each received about $700 a month in public assistance, recounted a conversation the Hmong pair had a few weeks ago: “My dad was telling my mom, ‘I think we shouldn’t go. You already lost $200 on the first of the month.’ My mom said, ‘It’s my money.'”

Gambling opponents and social workers say that while casinos draw all types of players with dreams of striking it rich, California’s network of bus services and recruiters has been especially effective in luring seniors to the state’s 56 Indian casinos.

But James May, a spokesman for the California Nations Indian Gaming Association, which represents 41 casinos, would not comment on the age or race of players that frequent the casinos.

“I’m sure each of the tribes handles their charters in different ways,” May said.

The charter bus that crashed Sunday in Williams, about 60 miles north of Sacramento, was en route to Colusa Casino Resort, which said it had done business with the bus company since 2006 but did not have an appointment with it that day.

The California Highway Patrol arrested the 52-year-old bus driver on suspicion of driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Officials said that he did not have the proper license to carry passengers and that the vehicle had an invalid license plate. The investigation continues.

Theresa Saechao, a social worker who has been helping bus crash victims and their families, said casinos and charter bus services have profited by targeting poor Southeast Asian communities, particularly seniors who can’t drive and face language barriers to finding jobs. “It’s destroying these communities here,” Saechao said.

State lawmakers have held hearings on problem gambling in recent years. And Democratic Assemblyman Mark DeSaulnier, chairman of the Transportation Committee, said his panel is requesting information about Sunday evening’s crash in Colusa County.

Relatives of the victims say recruiters for chartered buses come to the community, and then word of the gambling trips spreads.

“They are actually going into low-income neighborhoods and picking people out,” DeSaulnier said.

There are 1 million Californians who have a serious gambling problem, a state-sponsored study estimated two years ago.

Another state study found that the rate of problem gambling is lower among adults older than 65 than among the disabled, the unemployed and African-Americans. But gambling opponents and family members say seniors are hit especially hard by losses because they are on fixed incomes.

“Many live very insecure financial lives and by them being in a situation where they begin to lose $50 to $100 a week, it might be enough to jeopardize their financial situation and make them unable to make payments on utilities,” said Rev. James Butler, executive director of the California Coalition Against Gambling Expansion, a faith-based organization.

Some seniors playing quarter slot machines at Thunder Valley Casino told a reporter they were drawn by a nightly prize drawing, fine restaurants and the chance to get out of the house.

“I used to spend a lot of money on grandkids, but now I spend it on gambling, hoping to get rich — so I can spend more on them,” said Beverly Osborne, 72, who drove the 30 miles from her home in Sacramento.

The casino, built on former rangeland between Lincoln and Roseville northeast of Sacramento, is so lucrative that it is now adding a 24-story hotel that will jut above nearby suburban communities in Placer County.

Dr. Timothy Fong of the Gambling Studies Program at the University of California, Los Angeles, said it’s hard to say whether similar bus services should be considered a predatory practice; many seniors book the tours because gambling excursions are simply entertainment.

Because the bus trips have become common practice, Fong said, a better question for lawmakers and regulators is to educate seniors so they understand the risks of gambling.

“It’s not just a matter of should they, shouldn’t they,” Fong said. “If it’s going to happen, we should address it head on and have some safeguards.”

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Associated Press writers Don Thompson and Samantha Young contributed to this report.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press.

Woman gets nearly 13 years in fatal Minn. crash

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Posted on 8th October 2008 by gjohnson in Uncategorized

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Date: 10/8/2008 1:46 PM

MARSHALL, Minn. (AP) _ A woman who initially lied about her identity and still denies driving a van that slammed into a school bus, killing four children, was sentenced Wednesday to nearly 13 years in prison.

Olga Marina Franco Del Cid was sentenced on four counts of vehicular homicide in the Feb. 19 crash involving a bus from Lakeview School in the southwest Minnesota town of Cottonwood.

Franco was extricated from the driver’s seat of the minivan, which hit the school bus after barreling through a stop sign. But her attorneys tried to show during her trial in August that Franco’s boyfriend was driving, fled the scene and hasn’t been seen since.

“Franco’s sentence will end,” Lyon County District Judge David Peterson said. “For those parents dealing with injuries, it’s a daily struggle. For the parents dealing with lost children, it’s a lifetime of could-have-beens and might-have-beens that never will be.”

Through an interpreter, Franco asked for forgiveness for using someone else’s identity. She also asked for forgiveness for the crash, but still denied being the driver.

The children killed ranged in age from 9 to 13 and included two brothers. Fourteen other people were injured.

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Information from: KMHL-AM, http://www.marshallradio.net

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press.

Accidents involving buses between US, Mexico

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Posted on 7th October 2008 by gjohnson in Uncategorized

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Date: 10/7/2008 3:17 AM

By The Associated Press


A look at some accidents since 2002 in the United States involving bus companies that shuttle passengers between the U.S. and Mexico.

— Jan. 2, 2008: One person was killed and dozens of other passengers were injured, including a woman whose right arm was amputated, when a bus traveling from Monterrey, Mexico, to Houston veered off U.S. 59 near Victoria, Texas, and flipped on its side. Authorities said the driver, Roberto Garcia Cruz, fell asleep and was driving with the wrong kind of commercial license, both misdemeanors.

— Nov. 25, 2007: Four people were killed after a bus traveling near Earle, Ark., crossed the median and hit a pickup truck and semitrailer. Three passengers and the pickup truck driver died. More than 20 others were injured. The driver, Felix Badillo Tapia, was charged with four counts of felony negligent homicide after tests showed he had amphetamines in his system.

— Jan. 18, 2006: A Salvadoran man was killed after the commercial van he was riding in hit a patch of black ice near Green River, Utah, lost control and flipped over, ejecting him. A lawsuit filed by his family accuses the drivers of going too fast and violating federal rules limiting the amount of time they could drive in a 24-hour period.

— Aug. 1, 2005: A commercial van owned by Houston-based Transportes Diamante was involved in a single vehicle accident in Montgomery, Ala. The driver lost control of the van, which traveled over several lanes of traffic before overturning, injuring passengers, according to court records.

— Oct. 29, 2004: One person was killed and several others were severely injured after a van owned by Houston-based Transportes Tania was involved in a crash in Cherry Hill, N.J. Liability for the accident was placed on the driver.

— Sept. 20, 2002: Several passengers were injured after a bus operated by Dallas-based Autobuses Lucano Inc. and Houston-based Tres Amigos Tours went off the road and hit a tree in Jasper County, Miss., because the driver and replacement driver tried to switch seats while the bus was moving at 70 mph. A Mississippi jury awarded one of the injured passengers $5 million. The award was overturned on appeal and the case is set for retrial.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press.
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