Downhill runaway bus crashes in California, killing 7

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YUCAIPA, Calif. -- A runaway bus careened down a mountain road without brakes and the driver called out to passengers to phone 911 before a violent crash with two other vehicles that killed seven people and injured dozens of others, a surviving passenger said yesterday.

The pleas by the driver were futile because no one had cellphone reception in the rugged area, passenger Gerardo Barrientos, 28, told The Associated Press.

The bus was carrying a group from Tijuana, Mexico, heading home from a snow trip to the Big Bear Lake area of the San Bernardino Mountains 80 miles east of Los Angeles when it crashed into a sedan and pickup truck around 6:30 p.m. Sunday.

The cause of the crash remained under investigation.

Records showed the company that operated the bus had failed more than a third of federal vehicle safety inspections in the past two years. The bus involved in the crash recorded 22 safety violations in about a year's time, including problems with brakes, the windshield and tires, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

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Barrientos and girlfriend Lluvia Ramirez, who both work at a government hospital in Tijuana, spoke to the AP outside a Loma Linda University Medical Center emergency room as they awaited word on a friend who suffered a broken neck.

Barrientos was uninjured and searched for Ramirez and the other friend, who were both ejected. After he moved them away from the bus to safety, he assisted the bus driver. Ramirez suffered bruises and a hairline vertebra fracture.

"I was overwhelmed," she said. "I'm a surgical resident and I usually know how to react, but I was so in shock I didn't know what to do. I just stayed with my friend."

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