Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Bus Crash Kills 5, Driver Blind Drunk, 24, No License

A bus loaded with 50 people left from Santa Cruz broke almost every law regarding transportation safety and the trip ended in a horrific accident that left 5 dead and 43 injured. The driver, 24 year old
Luis Muñoz Díaz did not have a license to drive a bus, was seen drinking beer during a rest stop, and had converted the driver's cabin into a bar where he and his friends drank rum and coke and other alcohol from flasks.  Muñoz was not scheduled to drive the bus, and the bus itself was switched at the last minute for unknown reasons.  Lab exams performed some time after the crash confirmed that Muñoz had a blood alcohol content of 1.95 (.195%) almost four times the legal limit, a point at which speech is slurred and motor function severely impaired. His brother Edson Muñoz Díaz, 22 who accompanied Luis in the cabin was even more drunk with a blood alcohol content of 2.34 (.234%).  In Bolivia .05 is the legal limit of alcohol consumption to operate a motor vehicle, and .1 is considered intoxicated where the subject would have poor motor skills, bad balance, and blurry vision. Muñoz was almost double this near .2 where memory blackout, stupor, and loss of consciousness are common symptoms. 

Police have confirmed that there is no doubt that Muñoz was driving the bus at the time of the accident as he had to be hydraulically removed from the driver's seat where his hand was stuck by twisted metal. The owners and administrators of the Cosmos company could not be located at this time nor can anyone explain why this bus flagrantly violated so many laws and norms. The only word from the company comes from a lower employee who has offered to return any luggage to passengers that they may be missing due to the fatal crash. The route from Santa Cruz to Cochabamba is 500km and law requires that a driver can only go 300km without being relieved, so co-pilots are always used on this route, however this bus had no co-pilot and Muñoz himself would not have been qualified as a co-pilot. 

As an update to this story: The government issued an executive order suspending the operating license of the Cosmos bus company shortly after the incident to which bus transport companies delivered an ultimatum to the government to annul the suspension. The owner of Cosmos, René Cruz admitted that Muñoz had been driving with them for seven months prior "in similar conditions without any mishap" and vowed to pursue legal action to annul Cosmos' suspension. The bus companies along with the Bolivian Drivers Confederation and the Inter-Departmental Omnibus Union argue that the Minister of Government Sacha Llorenti had no legal right to suspend Cosmos on January 27th and are threatening a nation-wide road blockage.  

The government has pressed charges against the owners of Cosmos for allowing a bus to be driven by an unlicensed drunk and Bolivia's bus companies and drivers unions are threatening to radicalize their protest measures. The director of the Bolivian Drivers Confederation Franklin Durán accused the government at a press conference of leaving 500 drivers and 500 ticket takers without work because of this suspension of one of Bolivia's largest bus companies. Duran said to the press, "The factors (leading to the crash) are many; the driver is responsible. But the traffic police also had a role, they should have performed their controls. The government talks about a 'B License' but there is no entity that produces nor controls such a thing!"  Muñoz for his part, has apologized to the families of those he killed and asked for forgiveness.  Muñoz has been released from the hospital and has been ordered to stay put before his trial where he can be sentenced to serve up to five years in prison but most likely will only serve 2 if he is well behaved despite having caused a bus accident while drunk and without a license that killed five and injured dozens.

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