Damaged Amtrak bus.
A Goleta woman accused of driving this Amtrak bus after using methamphetamine and causing a crash last year changed her plea to guilty in Santa Barbara County Superior Court on Wednesday. (Keith Carls / KCOY News photo)
Laura Mae Gish

Laura Mae Gish

A Goleta woman accused of driving an Amtrak bus after using methamphetamine and causing a crash last year changed her plea to no contest in Santa Barbara County Superior Court on Wednesday. 

Laura Mae Gish, 52, was arrested after the crash of the southbound bus she was driving near Los Alamos Jan. 18, 2019.

The 2015 Volvo bus was carrying some 25 passengers on Highway 101 in light traffic at about 5:30 a.m. when she allowed the vehicle to drift off the road and into a tree.

The bus came to rest on its side in a dirt culvert. 

After a preliminary hearing last summer, Gish was ordered to stand trial on charges of driving under the influence of drugs causing injury, along with special allegations for causing bodily injury and injuring more than one person. 

She initially told law enforcement officer she had last used methamphetamine several days before the crash, then claimed she had used it the night before, according to testimony from the preliminary hearing.

One passenger received a broken jaw, two had spinal fractures and several received bloody noses, cuts and scratches, according to court documents.

Her trial on the charges was expected early this year, but has been delayed several times due to scheduling issues.

On Wednesday, Gish, who was represented by attorney Matthew Kraut, entered an open plea before Judge Patricia Kelly.

Unlike a plea deal with the prosecution, an open plea means a defendant did not receive any assurances regarding the sentence and leaves it up to the judge.

For the purposes of sentencing a no-contest plea is treated like a guilty plea.

Under the charges, Gish could face up to seven years in state prison when she returns for sentencing April 22.

She remains in custody without bail at the Santa Barbara County Jail.

Gish also has been named in civil lawsuits filed by patients injured in the crash. 

In addition to pair of lawsuits filed in fall, passenger Patrick Cajandig has named Gish, Grover Beach bus operator AmericanStar Tours, and Amtrak in a lawsuit filed this year. Cajandig is represented by Harris Personal Injury Lawyers for the lawsuit filed Feb. 11. 

Gish reportedly had been employed by the bus company since December 2018. 

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at jscully@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.