Friday, October 19, 2012

Up In Smoke

Two years ago yesterday, in the middle of the night, a passenger bus from Omnibus de Mexico, en route from Mexico City to Zacatecas, collided with a tractor trailer loaded with "toxic waste" on the highway a few miles outside of Querétaro.  The bus had apparently lost control and rammed into the trailer's fuel tank at exactly the wrong place one would want to do such a thing. Both vehicles were consumed in flames, and the impact jammed the bus door shut.  All 19 passengers, the bus driver and the truck driver were incinerated.  ("Calcinadas"is one of those Spanish words that, even if you don't understand it, you can guess means "burnt to a crisp.")

People get killed with some frequency in Mexico, but a middle-of-the-night crash that kills 21 innocent people is still kind of a big story.  And it was - for a few days.  What's utterly amazing to us two years later is how completely the story disappeared - really , within just a few days - despite involving 21 corpses, all sorts of liability issues (we'd assume), an investigation (we'd assume) into what actually happened (given that all the witnesses were dead), and especially given that it had one hell of a strange twist.

Did we say 21 corpses?  Sorry, that should be 20.  Once the crew at CSI: Querétaro started sifting through the ashes, they realized there was one person unaccounted for - the driver of the truck.  All the documentation in the truck was destroyed, and there was no sign of him anywhere, nor had anyone reported a missing truck driver.  (This is your first tip that the investigation is somewhat half-assed, since the license plate of the truck was printed in the newspapers, so finding someone who might know who might have been driving said truck shouldn't be all that difficult - unless, of course, just anyone can drive a truck full of toxic waste down a Mexican highway, which we have to admit wouldn't surprise us in the least.)

But then a few days later, who should suddenly pop up, but the driver himself!  Either the police didn't release his name, or no one at the newspaper bothered to ask it, but either way, the anonymous guy had a story to tell - albeit brief, and entirely devoid of details.  Basically, after the crash, he says, he got out of the truck, crossed the road, and then "walked a few kilometers." (In Spanish, this phrase in no way resembles "tried to help the trapped passengers burning to death," so we know we're not misreading it.)  After a while, he says, he was "helped by some truckers," and then remembers nothing until he woke up in "a hospital."  (Note, again, the maddening lack of specificity.)

We're not sure why none of the "helpers" or hospital personnel thought to notify the police about the dazed, injured, possibly burned truck driver wandering the highway a couple miles from an enormous conflagration that left a couple dozen people dead, but who are we to judge?  And we're pretty sure that if we were ever involved in a traffic accident here that involved an injury of any kind, we'd be sitting in jail until it all got straightened out, but in this case, the driver went free.  (Which we're cool with - we're not big fans of taking witnesses into custody - we're just pointing it out.)

Now, we're sure there are probably stones on the internet that we've left unturned, and invite more resourceful readers to prove us wrong, but the article we just linked to appears to be more or less the last time this thing was ever mentioned.  It's just been sucked into the bottomless memory hole of Mexican public life.  No follow-up investigation.  No repercussions for the bus company or the toxic-waste-hauling company.  The lone survivor is never identified.  No more details of his utterly fantastical story are ever produced nor, for all we know, sought.  Two years... nothing.  The whole story, like the 20 people on the bus to Zacatecas, calcinada.


Fulano said...

The truck driver's name is Abraham Flores Hernández and he worked for Sistemas Integrales de Manejo de Residuos Industriales (SIMARI). Apparently, he walked across the highway and hitched a ride back to his place of employment, leaving the passengers burning in the bus. The lawyers for SIMARI kept him hidden for five days until they could figure out which way the wind was blowing, then they presented the driver to the investigators for his statement.

Leaving the scene of an accident apparently is not illegal in Mexico.

Anonymous said...

u b s o t border, napoleonic law

Anonymous said...

u b s o t border, napoleonic law

Anonymous said...

The Netherlands operates under the Napoleonic Code as well, but corpse-buses don't fade into legal limbo. The longer I live Mexico, the less I'm surprised by these kinds of stories, which kind of worries me.