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California and the West

Bus Overturns on Icy Interstate; 35 Aboard Hurt

Traffic: The vehicle crashes east of San Diego. Snow and hail are blamed for more than 100 other Southland accidents.


A tour bus overturned in a storm on a treacherous stretch of highway east of San Diego on Monday evening, sending 35 people to the hospital. It was one of more than 100 accidents reported as snow and hail hit parts of Southern California.

Two dozen, including the bus crash, occurred along Interstate 8 near the mountain community of Alpine, which was lashed by thunderstorms and brief but very heavy small hail, National Weather Service officials said.

The bus was bringing residents from Baja California to the Viejas Indian gambling casino when it overturned about 6 p.m. The driver, Tomas Jimenez, 51, of Mexicali was arrested on suspicion of felony drunk driving, a California Highway Patrol spokesman said.

Jimenez told investigators that he tried to brake when he saw westbound vehicles stalled ahead of him in the storm, officials said. The bus did not hit any vehicles but fell violently on its side, ejecting numerous passengers, officials said.

Of the 35 people hurt, 13 had head, back and shoulder injuries considered serious but not life-threatening, officials said. The Mexican Consulate in San Diego was notified to help victims contact their families.

Ambulance drivers trying to reach the scene were hampered by icy conditions and poor visibility, said Jeff Fehlberg of the Heartland Regional Dispatch Center.

The storm, which dumped an inch of hail on the freeway, struck in late afternoon along a stretch of mountainous road where accidents are common because of sharp inclines and high winds.

"In every case," CHP spokesman Phil Konstantin said of Monday's collisions, "people were going too fast for the conditions. You cannot go anywhere near the speed limit in weather like this."

Interstate 8, the main east-west freeway between San Diego and Arizona, rises to an elevation of more than 4,000 feet as it winds through the Laguna Mountains. Signs warn of frequent high winds.

In 1996, a van crammed with 25 suspected illegal immigrants flipped into the air near the spot of Monday's bus accident, killing two people and injuring 19 others. The van driver lost control of the vehicle as he tried to negotiate the steeply declining grade.

Elsewhere Monday, a series of crashes involving about 30 vehicles in the westbound lanes of Interstate 10 in Fontana sent at least six people to the hospital, the CHP said. The freeway's westbound lanes were closed from 6 to 10:20 p.m.

In northern Los Angeles County, a 40-mile stretch of the Golden State Freeway from Lake Hughes Road to Laval Road was closed about 2 p.m. because of snow and icy conditions, authorities said.

At Escondido Summit on the Antelope Valley Freeway, traffic slowed to a crawl as drivers struggled to see taillights in front of them. Heavy snow flurries and low clouds forced several truck drivers to pull over to wait out the storm.

Construction of a commuter lane had been halted, but traffic was still funneled into two lanes in the area, causing additional delays. Exit and warning signs were partially obscured by snow.

Fort Tejon-based CHP officers responded to 10 to 15 accidents caused by wet roads, said Officer Grant Vaughn.

"People need to slow down," he said. "If they had doubled their distance, these things wouldn't have happened."

Southern California residents can expect warmer weather over the next few days as the cold front moves east, said Ron Schwarz, a meteorologist for Weather Central, which provides forecasts to The Times.

"It's kind of late for snow, but it's not unheard of," he said.

Beginning today, temperatures should range from the upper 40s to the low 60s with breezy conditions, Schwarz said.


Times staff writers Louis Sahagun, David Pierson and Martha Willman contributed to this story.

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