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Utah crash victims, kin will get help with expenses

The owners of a charter ski bus that crashed in southern Utah on Sunday, killing nine and hurting two dozen people, Friday expressed its "deepest sorrow" and said it is reaching out to the families of the dead and the accident's survivors.

Corporate Transportation 'N Tours stated that for "families who lost a loved one, we will be covering the expense to return their loved one home. For injured passengers, the Red Cross will be coordinating travel arrangements when they are released from the hospital, and (the bus owners) will help with this expense."

The company said relatives of the injured who are traveling to the area can contact the Red Cross for travel aid, for which CTNT will help pay.

Investigators, including the National Transportation Safety Board, are trying to determine the cause of the accident, in which the bus, returning from a ski trip, rolled off a road near Mexican Hat and plunged 40 feet. Most of the 51 passengers were ejected.

The accident happened about 275 miles southeast of Salt Lake City, in the Four Corners area, where Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico meet.

The Utah Highway Patrol and the NTSB are focusing on why driver Welland Lotan, 71, failed to handle a curve on State Route 163, which is a risky place to drive a large vehicle at night.

"It looks like it could be operator error," Highway Patrol Lt. Todd Peterson said. "But we're keeping any statements he made close to our vest."

The electronic engine controls on the bus could yield information about speed and any "hard stops" before the vehicle lost traction, said Pete Kotowski, who is leading the investigation for the NTSB. Initial findings could be revealed next week.

He said a data recorder, commonly called a "black box," was recovered.

Lotan was not seriously injured but remains at an Arizona hospital. Two people were in critical condition Friday at hospitals in Grand Junction, Colo., and Salt Lake City. Their names were not released.

Driver's record is 'perfect'

In Michigan, people who know Lotan's apparently spotless driving record were surprised to learn he was the driver of the charter bus.

Lotan lives in Gladwin County, Mich., and drives there for American Tour Club, a charter service. He and his wife, Betty, spend winters in Apache Junction, Ariz., where he also drives buses.

"He's driven for us for six years," American Tour owner Jim Stange told The Bay City (Mich.) Times. "He's put on hundreds of thousands of miles for us without so much as a ding or scratch on a bus. His record's perfect."

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