Walker, CA Tour Bus Crash, May 1986


Walker, Calif. (AP) -- A dozen seriously injured survivors of a tour bus plunge that killed 18 other elderly people battled for life Saturday as authorities tried to determine whether speeding caused the accident.
One survivor said the bus driver was speeding at the time and had been having difficulty controlling the bus, running it onto a shoulder of the road about 10 minutes before the crash.
The driver had three previous speeding violations, including one for driving a tour bus too fast, and had once lost his license for failing to appear in court on one of the violations, the California Highway Patrol said.
The bus, carrying 40 passengers to Santa Monica from a Nevada gambling junket, went out of control Friday and overturned as many as three times before coming to rest in the river, the patrol said. The vehicle left a skid mark 300 to 400 feet long on the winding mountain highway.
Some of the victims' bodies were swept as far as 15 miles downstream by the racing river. One person was unaccounted for Saturday afternoon, but there was no search under way and authorities said they were not sure if that person ever was on the bus.
The death toll made it the worst U.S. bus crash in nearly six years.
Of the 22 injured taken to six hospitals in Nevada and California, 12 were in serious condition and three of those were on the critical list.
Mike Maurer a spokesman for California's traffic disaster investigation squad, said officials remain uncertain about the cause of the accident on the winding Sierra Nevada highway but had found no obvious mechanical failures or tire problems.
The skid marks were inconclusive so far, since they were not necessarily brake marks, and preliminary finding may take weeks, he said.
Mono County Sheriff's Department investigator John Daniels blamed the accident on excessive speed.
CHP officer Cory Pianko said the accident occurred in "a section of 'S' curves and blind corners," where speed must be reduced to about 35 mph.
Judy Sobel of Van Nuys, Calif., was repairing a tire on her motorcycle when the bus passed at a speed she estimated at 55 mph to 60 mph. Seconds later, she heard the crash.
The bus owned by Starline Sightseeing Tours of Santa Fe Springs, bounced off a fence along U.S. 395 about 90 miles southeast of Reno and plunged down a 15-foot embankment before coming to rest upright with its rear ripped apart in a few feet of water.
The driver, ERNST KLIMECK, had three speeding violations and one accident in the past 2 1/2 years, with two of the speeding tickets involving buses, said CHP Lt. Ted Engstrom.
KLIMECK, 48, also failed to appear in court on one of the citations and had lost his license. He said it was not immediately known if the license was renewed.

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