Investigators examine a chartered tour bus that overturned on the eastbound… (Irfan Khan, Los Angeles…)
More than 50 passengers escaped with just minor to moderate injuries Thursday when their tour bus overturned on the eastbound 210 Freeway in Irwindale, authorities said.
Witnesses described the chaos as they broke out the bus' front windshield to pull passengers out.
"There were elderly people stuck on top of the other. They were going about 70 mph and got thrown onto each other," said Jeff Lewis, a truck driver who was behind the bus at the time of the crash.
The cause of the accident — which occurred about 10 a.m. just past the 605 Freeway interchange — remained under investigation Thursday evening. But witnesses said they saw the bus brake hard before swerving across multiple lanes and ending up on its side.
Melody Bausa, 21, was on her way to San Diego when she said the bus merged into her lane and clipped her Hyundai.
"I tried to move out of the way and the next thing I knew I got hit," she said.
Seconds later, with the bus resting on its side, Lewis said he and five or six others got out of their vehicles and helped pop open the front window to help passengers escape.
The group pulled about half the passengers out in about 15 minutes, said Lewis, a former firefighter in the military.
"They were very quiet," he said of the passengers. "I would say they were in shock."
The 210 Freeway was closed — clogging traffic for hours — as ambulances and first responders descended on the scene, setting up a triage and landing area for helicopters.
The exact number of people injured — ranging from 50 to 55 — fluctuated among the various agencies responding. The injuries were described as minor to moderate, although seven passengers were airlifted to hospitals. Five of the eight passengers who first responders determined needed "immediate" medical attention were taken to Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center, where Dr. Leo Rodriguez called the injuries "pretty basic blunt-force trauma."
"They were in pain from their injuries," he said at a news conference outside the hospital.
The bus was headed to San Manuel Indian Bingo and Casino in Highland after picking up passengers in Monterey Park and San Gabriel.
The owner of the Monterey-based company, Da Zhen Bus, could not be reached for comment Thursday.
According to a U.S. Department of Transportation database, the company had not had any safety violations in the past year.