The bus crash that claimed four lives and left 18 injured in Quezon City on Wednesday morning was blamed on a joke that offended the bus driver, according to one of the passengers who were hurt.
Following the accident, the entire fleet of Valisno Express was ordered grounded for 30 days starting Wednesday.
According to Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board Chair Winston Ginez, all 62 buses would be required to undergo a roadworthiness inspection to be conducted by the Land Transportation Office.
Their bus drivers must also take a drug test and attend a road safety seminar, he said.
The deadly crash happened at 7:20 a.m. on Wednesday as the Valisno Express bus being driven by George Pacis, 35, was plying Quirino Highway in Barangay Greater Lagro, Quezon City, with at least 30 passengers on board.
The nonair-conditioned bus was on its way to Tungko, Bulacan, from SM Fairview when it rammed into the concrete arch marking the boundary between Quezon City and Caloocan. According to a witness, Pacis was chatting with someone on the bus before the crash, while speeding and swerving on the highway.
The right side of the bus crumpled on impact, instantly killing two passengers who were thrown out of the bus. One was a woman in her 30s, dressed in a green blouse and denim pants, who remained unidentified at press time.
The other was Eduardo Remorin, 39, according to the case investigator, SPO1 Ferdinand Paglinawan.
Two other passengers who died while being treated at Dr. Jose Rodriguez Memorial Hospital in Tala, Caloocan, were identified as Arcenio Jacaba and Alberto Golpeo, Paglinawan said.
Ernesto Africa, who was among the injured passengers taken to the same hospital, told the Inquirer that before the accident, Remorin-a coworker-was talking with Pacis, the bus driver.
Africa, who along with Remorin was seated in front and to the right of the driver, said his companion jokingly told Pacis that he chose not to take a Nova Bus that day because their drivers drove much faster than Valisno's.
The joke apparently offended Pacis because he started driving fast until he hit the concrete boundary marker, Africa added.
Due to the impact, he and Remorin were also thrown out of the bus. "When I regained consciousness, I called Remorin but he didn't respond. [I later found] out that he died right away," said Africa, who sustained minor injuries in the foot.
He added that he and other passengers saw the driver changing his clothes before fleeing.
"If only the driver had not taken the joke seriously, this would not [have] happened," said Africa who was holding back tears as he lay on a hospital bed.
Meanwhile, Pacis, who was arrested by policemen in his hometown of Balagtas, Bulacan, at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, denied that he was speeding or chatting with someone before the crash.
He added, however, that he talked to a male passenger who teased him for driving slowly.
According to Pacis, he had overtaken a passenger jeepney before the crash. When he reached the bend near the boundary marker, "I stepped on the brakes and even swerved to the right but the bus kept on going."
"To the families of those on the bus, I did everything I could. I ask for forgiveness from those on the bus. It was an accident," he said, adding that he fled because he was scared that his passengers would kill him.
Pacis will face charges of reckless imprudence resulting in damage to property with multiple homicide and multiple physical injuries, and abandonment of one's own victim, said Quezon City Traffic Enforcement Unit head Supt. Ely Pintang.