Medical examiners remove bodies from the site of a bus crash on Interstate… (Pat Shannahan / Arizona…)
Reporting from Denver — A bus operating illegally from Mexico and traveling through Texas and Arizona to Los Angeles slammed into the back of a pickup truck and rolled over early Friday morning in the Arizona desert, killing six passengers and injuring 16, authorities said.
"No one walked away unscathed," Arizona Department of Public Safety spokesman Robert Bailey said from the crash scene, about 30 miles south of Phoenix.
The bus company, Tierra Santa Inc. -- which has offices in Van Nuys and the city of Durango, Mexico -- was operating without federal permission, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. The firm ran two motor coaches and employed four drivers, according to federal records.
In April, the company applied to the Department of Transportation for permission to operate in the United States, as is required for companies running routes across state lines. But the application was denied in December, said department spokesman Duane DeBruyne. "They knew they were running illegally," he said.
The company failed to show that it could meet federal requirements, including drug and alcohol testing of its drivers and proper vehicle maintenance, DeBruyne said
Tierra Santa officials could not be reached for comment. Phone numbers for the company did not appear to be working Friday.
The bus began its trip near Durango, in the central Mexican state of the same name. In Arizona, it was headed west on Interstate 10 at 5:30 a.m. when the bus rear-ended a Ford F-150 truck.
The bus swerved left into the median, then right, rolling several times before it landed in a ditch, said state Department of Public Safety spokesman Bart Graves.
"I could hear it turning over and over, and dust was in the air," witness Augustine Vavages told the Arizona Republic newspaper. He said he saw the crash from his home.
Several passengers were thrown from the bus; others were found dead inside the vehicle, Graves said. He said some passengers climbed out of the demolished vehicle, and motorists stopped to help others escape. "They were helping people out of the bus when we arrived," Graves said. "It was pretty tense and emotional."
Four women and two men were killed. Their identities were not released Friday afternoon. The injured, whose ages ranged from 11 to 69, were rushed to hospitals; five were in critical condition.
The driver, 66, was injured and is believed to be a Mexican national. His name was not released. He had driven the bus since its entry into the United States at El Paso, officials said. A co-driver handled the first leg of the journey and intended to take over again when the bus reached Phoenix.
Authorities said they had not determined the cause of the crash, but they are examining all factors, including whether the driver was impaired. Weather was not an issue, Graves said.
On Friday, federal officials were at Tierra Santa offices in Van Nuys conducting an investigation.
"The department will take every action at its disposal to keep companies like this one off the road," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement.
Correll writes for The Times.