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Bus crash: Bus driver, 2 Animo Charter and 1 Dorsey High student identified among dead

Dorsey High School student Jennifer Bonilla was killed in the NorCal bus crash. She is remembered as 'bright and eager.'
April 12, 2014 12:00:00 AM PDT
Family and friends have confirmed two Animo Charter High School students died in the bus crash in Northern California. LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy also confirmed a Dorsey High School student was killed. The bus driver who was killed was also identified Saturday.

The Animo Inglewood Charter students were identified as Ismael Jimenez and Denise Gomez. The two were good friends and were the homecoming king and queen of the small Inglewood campus.

A baseball-inspired vigil was held in memory of Jimenez Saturday.

His jersey and cleats were placed on home plate as his former league held a moment of silence for the 18-year-old and Gomez. Dozens of white balloons were also released.

"I wish this was just a very bad nightmare. I was hoping I'd wake up and he'd be here," Jimenez's older sister Evelin Jimenez told Eyewitness News. "There was no way to see it in his face, they had to take X-rays to see if that was his teeth."

She described her brother as a young man with a bright future. She said his talents landed him scholarships and that he was going to study art in college.

Evelin says Gomez was just as ambitious.

"She really cared about school, her grades were great, honor students," said Evelin.

On Saturday, Deasy confirmed Dorsey High School student Jennifer Bonilla was also killed in the tragic incident. Described by teachers as bright and eager, Bonilla's friends said it was her warmth and kindness they will miss the most.

"She was bigger than life. She was 4-ft tall, but, you know, we'd have to look up to her," said Bonilla's friend, Maritza Mestas.

Family and friends plan to hold a candlelight vigil in honor of the 17-year-old at Dorsey High School Wednesday.

The bus driver killed in the crash was initially identified as Tala Salanoa. Family members later clarified to Eyewitness News that her name is Talalelei Lealao-Taiao. Her grieving family said that she was dedicated to her job and the safety of her passengers.

A bus full of high school students was on its way to visit Humboldt State University in Arcata when a FedEx tractor-trailer slammed into them on Interstate 5 near the town of Orland at about 5:30 p.m. Thursday. Many of those onboard were from Southern California.

Ten people were killed in the crash, including five students and three adult chaperones. The drivers of the FedEx truck and the bus also died. Dozens more were injured.

Arthur Arzola, a recruiter for Humboldt State University, was the first of the 10 fatalities to be identified. Arzola, a 26-year-old from Rancho Cucamonga, died at University of California, Davis Medical Center in Sacramento.

The University of LaVerne in Southern California said Arzola was a graduate student in educational counseling who had recently married a LaVerne alumna and was set to receive his degree in May.

"Arthur has been described by his colleagues as one with a passion and commitment in helping students reach their academic dreams," University of La Verne President Devorah Lieberman said.

A memorial was to be held at the University of La Verne in his honor. Details were not immediately available.

Michael Myvett and his fiancee, Mattison Haywood, were also killed in the crash. Both were chaperones on the trip. The couple had just gotten engaged over Christmas in Paris, according to family. Myvett had worked at the Center for Autism and Related Disorders in Torrance for two years.

Family members confirmed that Adrian Castro, an El Monte High School student, died in the crash. His aunt described him as a "fine young man" who played football and had a bright future. A vigil was scheduled for Castro at El Monte High School Monday night.

A family member also confirmed that 17-year-old Marisa Serrato of Norte Vista High School in Riverside was on the stricken bus and died in the crash. Her identical twin sister Marisol made the trip in a separate bus and arrived without incident Thursday. The two were five minutes apart.

Of the 43 teenagers on board, Los Angeles Unified School District officials said 19 were from 15 LAUSD campuses, including: San Fernando, Dorsey, Fremont, City of Angels, Manual Arts, Banning, Carson, Chavez, Diego Rivera, Belmont, Wilson, Chatsworth and Middle College.

"We are very saddened by this traffic accident, it's very tragic," said Earl Perkins, LAUSD assistant superintendent of school operations.

Perkins said LAUSD has sent three groups to the crash site to meet with parents and students. It is not yet known if any LAUSD students were killed, district officials said. At least one or two students from each school was on the bus. Concerned family members can call the LAUSD hotline at (213) 241-3841.

Eric Tovar, a student from Artesia High School, said he was part of the group headed to Humboldt State University, but was on a different bus.

"I can't begin to describe the emotions on the bus when we received the news of our second L.A. bus," Tovar said in a statement to ABC7. "Before we entered HSU campus, we had a moment of silence and prayed for those who did not make it."

Three students from El Monte High School were on the trip, a district official said. Two were on a different bus, while Castro died in the crash.

A Garden Grove Unified School District official confirmed that a 17-year-old from Pacifica High School was on the bus. He was hospitalized with a wrist injury and was expected to be OK.

It was earlier reported that there were students from Thomas Jefferson High School on the trip, but officials say the two students who were supposed to go ended up not going because they were accepted to UCLA.

The Los Angeles Unified School District's Crisis Counseling phone number is (213) 241-3841.

A fund was set up by the Los Angeles Unified School District, Los Angeles School Police Association and the Friends of Safe School USA to help the families of the bus crash. For more information, visit www.laspoa.com.


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