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3 Area Residents Die in Mexico Crash

Five more are injured when a bus hits the vacationing victims' van near Puerto Vallarta.

November 12, 2002|John L. Mitchell and Daniel Hernandez | Times Staff Writers

Three people were killed and five others injured, all from the Pasadena area, when a bus hit their van and landed on top of it near the resort city of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, authorities said Monday.

Pasadena residents David C. Haber, Judith McNiff, 45, and James Chisholm died in the crash Saturday afternoon, said an officer with the Federal Highway Police in Puerto Vallarta.

Family members and friends said Haber, an attorney who was celebrating his 61st birthday, was vacationing with his wife, Margaret, and six friends at his home in the resort city of Puerto Vallarta when the group left in Haber's van for a seaside village in neighboring Nayarit state.

"We are all grieving, it hasn't sunk in yet," said Sage Knauft, Haber's son-in-law.

Haber was driving on a two-lane highway outside the town of San Francisco when he tried to turn left onto a dirt road leading to San Pancho, a smaller village, police said.

A bus sped behind Haber and tried to pass his van on the left, police said. The bus driver lost control and plowed into and over the van, crushing it and dragging it nearly 100 feet, said police and a paramedic who was at the scene.

"The van was left under the bus with its wheels to the sky, completely crushed," said Adan Castellano, a Red Cross paramedic. "The bus wasn't raised very high off the ground."

The bus driver and four passengers were unharmed. The driver ran away, authorities said.

Residents rushing to the scene used a local farmer's tractor to push the bus off and upright the van. The closest paramedics took 40 minutes to get to the scene and had to use machinery to free the victims.

"The impact was so strong that we had several critical injuries," Castellano said.

Bahia de Banderas authorities said Monday night that they were still searching for the driver of the bus, which was owned by the Transportes del Pacifico company.

The five survivors were taken to a hospital in Puerto Vallarta. All were expected to be airlifted to hospitals in Pasadena or Arizona by today.

They are Kathleen Chisholm, 57, Michael Burns (age unknown), Patricia Burns, 54, Francis McNiff, 65, and Margaret Haber, 65. Family members and friends said one of the reasons for the trip was to celebrate David Haber's and Francis McNiff's birthdays. Haber's birthday was Monday, and McNiff's was Friday, said Haber's 24-year-old daughter, Kathleen.

"They had had a party at my parents' house," she said.

David Haber, an attorney with Knapp, Petersen & Clarke, was an experienced trial litigator, having tried more than 100 cases, including some involving aviation, product liability and legal malpractice, according to the firm's Web site.

Since the accident, friends and relatives have dropped by his house in Pasadena to offer the family support.

"Friends were the most important thing to him," his daughter said. "That's the most important message he impressed upon us, the importance of friendships."

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