A bus heading back to Los Angeles from a Southern California casino crashed into a semi-tractor trailer Sunday, killing 13 people in what witnesses describe as a nightmare of screams and twisted metal.
Thirty-one passengers were injured, at least four critically, in the early morning crash in the Indio area, east of Palm Springs.
The bus was ferrying visitors home from the Red Earth Casino in Salton City when the tragedy struck after 5 a.m.
"I was awakened by the sounds of people screaming for help," 61-year-old passenger Ana Car told the L.A. Times. “I noticed a heavyset woman lying in the center aisle to my right yelling, 'My legs! My legs!'"
According to the California Highway Patrol, the semi was traveling at approximately 5 mph due to slow traffic when the charter bus collided with it from behind.
“The impact just, you know, hit me from behind and I just blacked out for a minute and when I gained my consciousness, I undid my seatbelt and looked around. Thought I got ran over by something. That’s when I got out of my truck,” recalled the truck driver, who identified himself in a video provided to CBS LA as Bruce.
Bruce described the scene to a cab driver named David Hirschfield who then provided video of their conversation to the media. In the video, Bruce said he was injured but helped pull victims from the bus nonetheless.
"You got to think about others. I’m going to be alright. I want to get them safe. I don’t know if the bus is going to blow up," Bruce said.
After dropping Bruce off, Hirschfield said he didn't charge the driver.
“He’s quite a wonderful gentlemen I was privileged to pick him up," Hirschfield said. "I didn’t charge him. I said you’ve been through enough today."
Authorities said the bus was traveling at such a high speed that the semi itself smashed about 15 feet into the bus.
California Highway Patrol Units from the Indio Area office responded within minutes to provide scene safety and medical treatment for the injured.
Local fire departments also responded and began extrication and triage.
Victims were transported to three local area hospitals, where three remained in critical condition Monday morning.
Authorities have yet to name all the victims.
Among the dead is Rosalba Ruiz, a 53-year-old grandmother of five.
Ruiz's family identified her body at the Riverside County coroner's office, where they emerged in tears. "She used to love to go to the casinos, that was part of her hobby," one family member told reporters. "You don't believe that will happen."
The Riverside County Coroner’s office is working on identification and family notification at this time. While most of them are believed to be from the L.A. area, officials have received calls from Mexican, Australian and Japanese consulates.
"In almost 35 years, I've never been to a crash where there's been 13 confirmed fatals," California Highway Patrol Border Division Chief Jim Abele told the L.A. Times. "It's tough... you never get used to this."
Any information about the role of alcohol, drugs, or fatigue is unknown at this time, CHP said.