One person was killed and two were hurt in a multiple-vehicle head-on crash along Highway 1 south of Hearst Castle on Monday afternoon.
CHP officials at the scene said unsafe passing along the two-lane coastal route likely caused the crash. Officer Ward Sterling said the agency would seek prosecution once the cause was confirmed.
Reported just after 4:30 p.m., the crash involved a Holiday Motor Coach tour bus from Idaho Falls, Idaho, a Toyota Camry licensed in Washington and a Toyota Tundra SUV bearing a California plate.
Investigators at the scene near San Simeon had not determined as of Monday night what direction each vehicle was heading.
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Officials suspected that one of the cars was driving north, possibly the Tundra, and passed the tour bus. The passing vehicle clipped the bus and caused minor damage to its left front wheel well and side, according to Sterling.
The passing vehicle then crashed head-on into another vehicle, possibly the Camry.
The Tundra ended up on its side. The Camry sustained major damage, especially to its front end and driver’s side, and a female passenger was killed.
The Camry’s driver was taken to Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center in San Luis Obispo where, according to paramedics, his condition was critical but stable. The driver of the Tundra was taken to Twin Cities Community Hospital in Templeton.
The CHP questioned a man who was being treated at Twin Cities late Monday evening, according to the agency’s media website. The Tribune is not publishing the man’s name because his possible role in the crash has not been disclosed.
The bus driver stayed at the scene, talking to authorities for a time before heading north to pick up his load of passengers and return south.
The crash caused delays on the scenic byway in both directions for about two hours, and traffic backed up for a couple of miles. Some people got out of their cars and sat alongside the Hearst Ranch fence. Others chatted with people in other cars.
Among them were five young men from Australia on a 10-week tour of the U.S. Theirs was the second vehicle to arrive on the scene from the south after the accident.
Anthony White said he saw people from the north side of the accident get out of their cars, “running up to help.” Someone broke a front window out to check on one of the drivers, then pulled him out of the car.
Dan Ring said, “They tried to open the doors to the car but weren’t able to.”
CHP opened the southbound shoulder to alternating directions of controlled traffic about 5:30 p.m.
A witness said that two high-speed vehicles passing had caused the crash, according to the CHP media website, but that hadn’t been confirmed by late Monday.
Authorities initially suspected the accident might have been a hit-and-run crash and had alerted San Luis Obispo County law enforcement agencies to look for a silver two-door “high-end” sports coupe that headed south. However, investigators at the scene ruled out that scenario later in the afternoon.