Julio Vallejo is recovering at a friend’s home in Oceanside after being treated for numerous injuries he suffered in Sunday’s deadly bus crash in San Bernardino County.
“This was the worst minutes of my life,” Vallejo told NBC 7 San Diego in an exclusive interview.
Groggy from a long day sightseeing at Big Bear Lake, Vallejo was sleeping on the bus ride home when his friend told him to wake up.
He recalls looking at his friend’s terrified face and hearing, “the bus, I think there’s something wrong, I think the bus don’t have brakes.”
The friend explained that as the bus approach a curve, passengers smelled smoke and heard a grinding sound when the bus driver pressed on the brakes.
But the bus wasn’t slowing down.
Vallejo was seated in the last row of seats which was perched a little higher than the others.
“I can see all the seats,” he said. “All the people was praying.”
Vallejo said people gripped each other tightly and many cried as the bus continued down the two-lane mountain road, gaining speed with every second.
For approximately five minutes he said the bus swayed left and right as the driver dodged cars and tried to keep the bus from crashing. The driver tried to avoid guardrails separating the road from steep cliffs.
At one point desperate passengers screamed at the driver to stop the bus any way he could.
“Some people say, ‘Crash with something, the rocks, with anything,'” he said.
Moments later the bus slammed into a car and then a truck, causing the bus to flip twice according to Vallejo.
He gripped the seat in front of him but quickly found himself tumbling with others like clothes in a dryer.
He was ejected through a window onto the roadway, landing on his hands knees and face.
“I touch my legs my arms, my head, and I say, ‘Thank you, God,’ because I’m alive,” he said.
Vallejo suffered several bruises on his face and said he believes the seven people killed in the crash would still be alive today if the bus were equipped with seat belts.
Right now, laws do not require large tour buses to have seat belts. Vallejo said that needs to change.