Trucker Pleads Guilty to 40 Charges in Semi vs Bus Crash That Killed 13 People
Indio, CA – On Friday, the driver of a big rig involved in an October 2016 collision with a passenger bus that left 13 people dead was sentenced to prison for his role in the fatal accident.
Bruce Guilford, 53, of Covington, GA pleaded guilty to more than 40 felony and misdemeanor counts, including vehicular manslaughter and reckless driving.
Guilford, who had previously pleaded “not guilty” to the charges in November 2017, changed his mind and pleaded guilty to all charges during court on Friday.
The Riverside County District Attorney’s Office said it was not a plea agreement.
Facing up to 35 years in prison, he was ultimately sentenced to four years for his role in the fatal crash, according to court records.
The accident occurred Sunday, October 23, 2016, at approximately 5:15 a.m. along Interstate 10, just outside of Palm Springs.
According to a 56-page report published by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), Guilford was traveling in the westbound lanes of I-10 in a 2015 International ProStar tractor and pulling a 2012 Utility trailer.
At approximately 5:07 a.m. (nine minutes before the fatal crash), Guilford’s semi came to a stop in the westbound lanes around mile marker 32.5 due to a traffic break initiated by the California Highway Patrol (CHP).
The traffic break was a result of utility work that was being performed approximately a mile and a half west of the crash site.
After approximately 7 minutes, traffic was cleared to move again when CHP released the westbound lanes.
According to NTSB, witnesses state Guilford’s tractor-trailer did not move despite the release to operate, and remained in the center-right lane of the four-lanes of I-10.
This was confirmed by video footage captured from CHP officers who conducted the traffic break, as well as surveillance from a nearby FedEx building.
CHP authorities later argued in court that Guilford set his parking break during the traffic stop and fell asleep, which is why the semi did not begin moving after the traffic stop concluded.
About two minutes after traffic resumed flowing, a passenger motorcoach traveling also in the center-right lane on I-10 west, operated by 59-year-old Teodulo Elias Vides, collided into the rear of Guilford’s semi-trailer.
The motorcoach struck the semi while traveling at 76 miles per hour, according to the NTSB.
It penetrated about 13 feet into the trailer and pushed the big rig forward over 70 feet before both vehicles came to a rest.
Vides, along with 12 passengers on the motorcoach, were killed in the crash.
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The remaining 30 passengers also suffered injuries varying from minor to serious.
After a year-long investigation, the NTSB released its report in October 2017, which determined the probable cause of the crash was:
(1) the California Department of Transportation’s inadequate transportation management plan for the traffic break, which resulted in a hazardous traffic situation in which law enforcement did not detect the combination vehicle’s lack of movement after the traffic break ended and the bus driver did not receive any advance warning of potential traffic stoppage ahead;
(2) the truck driver’s not moving his combination vehicle after the traffic break ended, most likely due to his falling asleep as a result of his undiagnosed moderate-to-severe obstructive sleep apnea; and
(3) the bus driver’s lack of action to avoid the crash due to his not perceiving the combination vehicle as stopped, as a result of his fatigue and the fact that he did not expect to encounter stopped traffic.
The NTSB report noted that the drivers of both commercial vehicles — Guilford and Vides — were sleep deprived.
Notably, the report determined Vides, who was the owner of the motorcoach and USA Holiday Inc., had only slept approximately four hours in the 35 hours preceding the fatal crash.
He had six reportable crashes since December 1998, according to the California Department of Motor Vehicles.
The NTSB also uncovered Vides’s history of traffic-related violations, totaling nine since 2002, including one for speeding.
During the trial, CHP Officer Scott Parent testified that in an interview with Guilford, the trucker claimed he had been stopped for “25 to 30 minutes” in traffic and denied falling asleep at the wheel.
Parent also testified in court that Guilford was in violation of hours of service (HOS) rules and had been driving over the maximum limit.
Parent also alleged that while Guilford was “not the party determined to be most at fault for the collision,” his falling asleep during the traffic stop “was a substantial factor in the deaths of 13 individuals.”
Guilford was arrested almost a year after the accident when he was taken into custody by a U.S. Marshals Service fugitive task force on October 19, 2018.
He has been incarcerated since that time.
A hearing is scheduled for October 28, 2019 to determine how much of Guilford’s sentence will remain when factoring in time served.
About Guilford’s Driving History
Guilford, who was driving for Tri-State Collision at the time of the crash, obtained his CDL in June 2001.
He was first employed by FedEx Freight and also worked for Sunco Carriers and R.E. Garrison Trucking before joining Tri-State Collision in September 2016.
Records from the Georgia Department of Motor Vehicles, where Guilford obtained his CDL, did not report any crashes for the truck driver.
However, Sunco reported he was involved in one preventable crash in August 2009.
Subsequently, R.E. Garrison told the NTSB his employment with the carrier was terminated after five years “because of safety issues — specifically, because of a speeding conviction.”
The NTSB report indicated Guilford was traveling from Madisonville, LA to Rancho Cucamonga, CA, at the time of the crash.
He told investigators that he had not previously driven the section of I-10 where the crash occurred and stated he was not familiar with handling traffic breaks or rolling roadblocks.
Photo courtesy California Highway Patrol/News Channel 3
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