"It was clear and easy," Patton said.
After the accident, Patton said he leaped from his seat and extricated the driver, who was hanging upside down tangled in his seat belt. Patton said he then kicked out a front window.
Once he was outside the overturned bus, Patton said, he banged on the rooftop escape hatch until someone inside threw it open.
Bloodied passengers emerged one after another, helped down into the brush alongside the highway by those already outside.
Patton said he was headed to Santa Maria to serve a 16-month jail term for a crime he did not identify. By doing his time, Patton said, he hoped to set a good example for his teenage son.
"I'm trying to straighten my life out," Patton said. "And it was almost over."
Takafumi Okjima, a 44-year-old shipping company employee from San Francisco, said he woke to a thunderous crash and the screams of other passengers.
"It was just a nightmare," he said. "Everything in the bus was all crumpled up, people were screaming, and my mouth was full of dirt."
Antonia Atilano said she boarded the bus in Santa Barbara after a long Thanksgiving visit with her family.
All the windows on the vehicle's right side were shattered and tires were blown out, she said.
"I really don't want to get back on a bus today," Atilano said. "But I need to be in San Francisco tomorrow for school and my job."
Fifty firefighters and paramedics converged on the accident site, Cullom said. Some passengers had to be cut out of their seats, and hydraulic equipment was needed to pull four people from the wreckage.
Triage was performed at the scene, and two of the most seriously injured were flown by helicopter to Marian Medical Center. Most of the injured were taken by ambulance to the medical center, with others going to Arroyo Grande Community Hospital and Lompoc Hospital, Cullom said.
The accident left a lot of "walking wounded," Cullom said, "but we don't expect any increase in the number of deceased."
The bus left the Greyhound station in downtown Los Angeles about 3:15 a.m. as scheduled, according to a CHP news release. The bus normally stops in a dozen towns and cities en route to San Francisco, where it was originally scheduled to arrive at 3:20 p.m., said Greyhound spokeswoman Anna Folmnsbee.
"All our buses go through a routine check before they leave on a scheduled run," Folmnsbee said, adding that the bus had passed inspection before it left Los Angeles. The Dallas-based company planned to conduct its own investigation, Folmnsbee said.
By early afternoon Sunday, dozens of survivors had been released from the three hospitals and were boarding buses sent by Greyhound to take them to their destinations between Santa Maria and San Francisco.
"Most of the injuries were minor," said Albert Schultz, an emergency room physician at Marian Medical Center. Many of the passengers had lacerations and contusions, he said.
The only patients expected to stay overnight were a man with a fractured femur, who was awaiting surgery, and another man who had been bruised and cut and had reported chest and abdominal pain. An exam showed no internal injuries, but he was being kept overnight for observation and pain control, Schultz said.
Times staff writers Jia-Rui Chong and Valerie Reitman contributed to this report.