MISSION VIEJO — A school bus with only one passenger aboard went over the side of El Toro Road into a ditch Monday morning after the driver swerved to avoid a pickup truck, highway patrol officials said. Only the pickup driver was injured.
The bus operator, Mayflower Contract Services, is the same company involved in a July 31 crash in Palm Springs that claimed seven lives. And while Saddleback Valley Unified School District officials credited the bus driver Monday for avoiding a more serious accident, they also said it was the district's second bus mishap in the last two weeks.
Ironically, the 10-year-old girl aboard the bus Monday was also the only passenger in the previous district accident on Oct. 4, a school district spokesman said.
In the earlier accident, which took place in the same area but involved a different driver, a bus stalled on a steep hill and was rear-ended on the side of Live Oak Canyon Road by a pickup. No injuries were reported, the spokesman said.
"It was scary," passenger Janine Davy of Portola Hills, a student at Trabuco Elementary School, said in recalling the Monday accident.
"There was a truck and he pulled over in the middle of the road and the bus driver (tried to) avoid it and we hit it and we went over the side," she said.
Neither the bus driver, Yolanda Wilson, 31, of Santa Ana, nor Janine was injured in the 7:10 a.m. accident, a California Highway Patrol spokeswoman said.
But the driver of the truck, Jose Ayala, 30, of Anaheim, was taken to Saddleback Memorial Medical Center, the CHP said. A medical center spokeswoman said Ayala, who had complained of neck and shoulder injuries, was treated and released.
Ayala was headed west on a narrow stretch of El Toro Road and was stopped in the left-turn lane, waiting to turn onto Ridgeline Road, the CHP said. The bus driver, who was traveling behind Ayala on El Toro Road at about 50 m.p.h., saw Ayala's vehicle ahead of her, hit the brakes, and locked the wheels, officials said.
The large bus skidded violently to the right as Wilson fought to avoid hitting Ayala's truck, the CHP said. As the bus continued skidding, it struck the pickup with the left rear section and went off the road, down an embankment and into a ditch.
Thomas Tuller, director of business services for the Saddleback Valley school district, said Wilson has been employed since August by Mayflower Contract Services, which contracts with the district to transport 4,520 students.
Under a three-year district arrangement, the buses are owned and maintained by the school district, but Mayflower runs them and provides drivers, Tuller said.
Tuller, who visited the crash site Monday, praised Wilson, who he said "did a great job" in preventing her bus from colliding harder with the pickup truck.
"If she had hit the truck harder, it would have been a very different story," Tuller said.
Tuller said there is a curve near the crash scene but would not say whether it was a factor in the accident. "I guess it has to be determined (by the CHP) whether or not the curve had an influence on today's accident," Tuller said.
No citations were issued. The accident is under investigation, the CHP said.
Craig Campbell, Mayflower contract manager, described Wilson's driving record as "very good," although he declined to offer more information. He said the 85-passenger bus had no mechanical defects.
Because many state offices were closed for the Columbus Day holiday, the CHP said it was unable to provide further information on either Mayflower's operation or the district's record involving school buses.
Officials with the Palm Springs Police Department have recommended the filing of misdemeanor charges against some Mayflower officials over their alleged failure to correct mechanical problems in a school-owned bus that crashed in Palm Springs on July 31. The crash, during a Girl Scout trip, killed seven people.
At the time of the crash, state officials said that Mayflower had been cited seven times in the past year for CHP infractions, including twice for brake problems.
On Monday, Wilson had just begun her bus route, and Janine was the only passenger aboard. Tuller said Wilson normally picks up about 32 students and transports them to Trabuco Elementary School. After the accident, another bus was dispatched to pick up the remaining students on the route.