Crime

Driver in fatal Merced County bus crash now charged in child sex-crimes case

Rescue crews remove a bus passenger while responding to the scene of a charter bus crash on northbound Highway 99 between Atwater and Livingston, Calif., Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2016. According to the California Highway Patrol, four people are dead and at least five more suffered major injuries when the bus carrying about 30 people struck a large pole holding the highway exit sign for Hammatt Avenue.
Rescue crews remove a bus passenger while responding to the scene of a charter bus crash on northbound Highway 99 between Atwater and Livingston, Calif., Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2016. According to the California Highway Patrol, four people are dead and at least five more suffered major injuries when the bus carrying about 30 people struck a large pole holding the highway exit sign for Hammatt Avenue. akuhn@mercedsunstar.com

The case against the driver of deadly 2016 bus crash in Merced County has been put on hold while the 59-year-old Los Angeles man faces dozens of new sex crimes charges in an unrelated case in Southern California.

Mario David Vasquez has pleaded not guilty to four counts of vehicular manslaughter and other charges in connection with the bus crash outside Livingston nearly two years ago.

But Vasquez now faces even more serious criminal charges in Los Angeles County Superior Court where he has pleaded not guilty to sexually assaulting two children numerous times during a five-year period, authorities have said.

If convicted in Los Angeles, Vasquez faces about 300 years in prison, the LA County District Attorney's Office said.

Vasquez was arrested on March 13 and booked into a Los Angeles County jail on suspicion of eight counts of committing lewd acts and seven counts of having sex or sodomizing underage children, according to county jail records and a criminal complaint filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court.

The complaint alleges Vasquez committed sex crimes involving two girls, described in court records as younger than 14 and younger than 10. Court records indicate the allegations began as early as December 2007 and went on until at least June 2017.

In Merced County, Vasquez faces more than 14 years in prison, if convicted in connection with the bus crash, said Supervising Deputy District Attorney Nicole Silveira.

Because Vazquez is being held in Los Angeles for the child sex crimes charges, a bench warrant for Vazquez was issued so he could return to Merced County after the Southern California case is resolved, Silveira said.

Vasquez was driving a white tour bus full of passengers when it was ripped nearly in half on Aug. 2, 2016, by a highway pole on Highway 99 south of Livingston, according to the California Highway Patrol.

The crash killed four passengers and injuring several others.

After the crash, Vasquez got off the bus and started yelling "It's not my fault, it's not my fault," before he stepped into traffic and was hit by a car, according to investigators' reports.

Survivors told authorities Vasquez rushed passengers on the bus at their departure points and was weaving through lanes between 70-80 mph before the crash. They also said Vazquez looked tired when they boarded.

Vasquez told authorities a mechanical issue caused the crash, but investigators said Vasquez was fatigued, causing him to make an unsafe turning movement that caused the crash. Vasquez also had been driving for about eight hours at the time of the crash, likely sleeping fewer than five hours before the shift, according to reports.

On Sept. 19, 2017, Vazquez pleaded not guilty to four counts of vehicular manslaughter and five counts of misdemeanor code violations, according to the Merced County District Attorney's Office. Vasquez was allowed to stay out of custody, but he was not allowed to drive and was required to surrender his passport.

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