57 people killed in Mexican bus crash

Sobbing family members began arriving at a makeshift morgue in a gymnasium in this highland town to identify their loved ones among the 57 people killed when an overloaded bus careened off a highway and into a 200-meter (650-foot) ravine. Many adorned with small plastic crosses and other religious items, the coffins stretched most of the length of an indoor basketball court Monday, with an almost equally haunting pile of luggage belonging to the victims stacked up against one wall.

The crash was the among the worst in recent memory in Mexico , where bus accidents that claim dozens of lives are common. It occurred Monday morning, near Maltrata, in the Gulf Coast state of Veracruz , about 125 miles (200 kilometers) east of Mexico City . Investigators have yet to determine the cause of the crash, but say the bus was speeding when it swerved off a highway linking Mexico City and the port city of Veracruz , considered one of the country's most dangerous routes.

The driver was seen attempting to maneuver into a lane designed for vehicles that have brake or other mechanical failure and the bus plowed through a metal guard rail before crashing to the bottom of the ravine. The vehicle fell between 200 to 250 meters (650 to 820 feet), landing about 12 miles (20 kilometers) from Maltrata. It was smashed to pieces, both of its axles severed from its main body.

Among those killed was a 13-year-old boy. Just three people survived: A man and a woman were in serious condition and an 8-year-old girl was conscious but had suffered multiple fractures, said Ranulfo Marquez, deputy director of civil protection for Veracruz state, where the crash occurred. Marquez said by phone late Monday that the dead had been identified as 29 women and 27 men and the teen, all of whom were Mexican citizens, and that most hailed from three communities in Tabasco state, which borders Veracruz . The driver was believed to be among those killed.

The bus, equipped to hold 46 passengers, was carrying 60, some of whom were standing. Federal Preventive Police Cmdr. Reinaldo Ascencio Cavazos said the owner of the bus was detained for questioning. Marquez said the bus had been on the road for 22 years and should not have been allowed to operate. It had already traveled for more than 10 hours as it returned to Tabasco from an Easter week gathering near the western city of Guadalajara .

He said the victims traveled to an event in Tequila, 40 miles (60 kilometers) northwest of Guadalajara , Mexico 's second largest city. Ascencio said the passengers belonged to two religious groups the Guadalajara-based Light of the World and Pentecostes.

But in Guadalajara , Light of The World spokesman Sara Susana Pozos said those killed were not members of her church. "We haven't had any religious act in Guadalajara or in the south of the country," Pozos said, adding that church officials in Veracruz have been in contact with officials at the crash site.

She said that police might have been confused because some of the women from the crash wore long clothing and carried bibles, like many of those faithful to The Light of the World. Light of the World is a conservative Protestant movement founded in 1926, when members believe Christ spoke to the church's Mexican founder. Hundreds of thousands of Mexicans filled the highways Sunday and Monday as they returned from Easter week vacations. The holiday typically sees a large number of highway deaths, reports the AP.