Avtar Jandi doesn't enjoy the long drive, so he usually takes Amtrak to Los Angeles and back. Or he flies.
Last week, though, the small-animal surgeon who moved to Modesto a few months ago overstayed his visit with a friend. His train, as they say, left the station without him.
So he took an Amtrak bus to Fresno and caught a Greyhound bound for Sacramento, with a stop in Modesto along the way.
If all had gone as planned, he easily would have been at American Pet Hospital on Coffee Road in time to handle his scheduled appointments.
Except that all didn't go well at all.
He bought a ticket, boarded and settled into a seat on the passenger side, third row from the front. The bus, he said, left 35 minutes late. Just a few minutes into the trip, though, Jandi thought the driver of the Greyhound bus seemed to be driving faster than necessary, as if to make up some of the lost time.
Jandi, who claims the bus was traveling at more than 70 miles per hour, left his seat and intended to tell the driver to slow down.
He never got the chance.
As the bus passed a slower car in front of it, Jandi saw the accident coming as he peered into the darkness through the front windshield.
"I looked out and I saw the disabled car between the first and middle lane," Jandi said. "I didn't know if it was stopped, upside down or just slow. I knew it wasn't normal, though, and I knew he (the bus driver) was going to hit it. He was going too fast."
Too fast, Jandi said, to avoid hitting an SUV already overturned on Highway 99. The bus hit the SUV, then went off the road and into a eucalyptus tree, flattening it and destroying the front end of the bus.
"I hit the window on the side by my seat," Jandi said. "That's why my shoulder is broken. I knew I was going to fly out that window."
He landed hard, but not enough to knock him out. As he took physical inventory -- Jandi also suffered deep bruises in his back and numerous cuts and scrapes -- he realized he was near the rear of the 44-foot bus, and outside it.
More often than not, getting ejected from a moving vehicle proves fatal or, at the very least, leaves the victim with severe head injuries. This, he said, is one of those freak instances when it saved a life -- his.
"That's why I survived," Jandi said. "Everything got destroyed back to my seat. I would have died."
Six people died, including three in the SUV, the bus driver and two passengers. The California Highway Patrol has reported that the victims in the SUV were alive when they were struck by the bus. Among the 41 survivors, Jandi was among the 20 who were injured.
The CHP reported that the driver of the SUV, 18-year-old Sylvia Lopez Garay, had been drinking, but hasn't determined the speed of the bus, officer Brad Simpson said.
"We won't know that for a while," Simpson said.
Though he was hurting, Jandi said he assisted some of the survivors in getting out of the wreckage and he refused to be taken to the hospital immediately.
"I tried to help people," Jandi said. "Looking at the bus, there was nothing left. I didn't want to put myself ahead of people whose lives were threatened."
He eventually went for treatment and emerged with his arm in a sling.
Later that morning at the pet hospital in Modesto, receptionist Jessica Little began canceling and rescheduling appointments, because there was no veterinarian available to handle them. Davinder Sandhu, the other vet scheduled to work that day, had gone to Fresno to bring Jandi home.
"(Jandi) came back that day thinking he was going to work," Little said. "We told him, 'No, go home and get some rest.' "
Jandi said that with only one functional arm, his workload will be limited for the next couple of months. He'll spend much of his time getting the hospital's expanded surgery clinic up and running. Saturday, though, he operated on a dog owned by Aaron and Samantha Ford of Modesto.
"He had to be there because people needed care for their pets," Aaron Ford wrote in an e-mail to The Bee.
Jandi was happy to be there, considering the alternative.
He said he'll stick to the trains and planes, avoiding freeways whenever possible.
"I'll never take a bus again," he said.
Jeff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Local News. He can be reached at 578-2383 or firstname.lastname@example.org.