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Bus Driver in Deadly Crash in Santa Maria Won't Be Charged

June 15, 2006|Steve Chawkins | Times Staff Writer

No charges will be filed against a Greyhound driver involved in a bus accident that killed three passengers last November in Santa Maria, Santa Barbara County prosecutors said Wednesday.

Examining the results of medical tests, the prosecutors concluded that the driver, Samuel Bishop, 63, may have suffered a seizure before his bus swerved down an embankment and hit a tree near U.S. 101, Deputy Dist. Atty. Mag Nicola said.

"There's a strong possibility of a seizure-like disorder that had been previously undiagnosed and unknown to Mr. Bishop," said Nicola, declining to elaborate on Bishop's medical evaluation.

Shortly after the accident, California Highway Patrol officers said that Bishop may have fallen asleep at the wheel.

"We based that on physical evidence," said Officer Gus Lopez, a CHP spokesman in Santa Maria, adding that the bus had drifted off the roadway as though the driver had nodded off.

If that had been the case, Bishop would have faced charges of misdemeanor manslaughter, Nicola said.

Killed were San Francisco businessman Faro Jahani, 50, and Santa Maria farmworker Maria Contreras, 23.

Contreras, who was seven months pregnant, also lost her unborn child. Authorities determined that the fetus would have been viable outside the uterus.

Dozens of other passengers suffered injuries, most of them minor.

Bishop faces a number of lawsuits stemming from the crash. The Fresno-based driver is now on "non-driving status" at Greyhound, a spokesman said.

Mark Coleman, a Fresno attorney representing Bishop in the criminal case, described his client as "relieved by the district attorney's decision but still deeply troubled that the accident occurred and that people were hurt and killed."

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