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Bus crash: FedEx semi didn't brake before hitting bus

NTSB investigators say the FedEx driver didn't appear to brake before hitting the bus carrying high school students.
April 12, 2014 12:00:00 AM PDT
Federal safety investigators say the driver of a Fedex tractor-trailer that struck a bus carrying a bus full of Los Angeles-area high school students didn't appear to brake before a fiery collision that left 10 dead.

On Saturday, National Transportation Safety Board member Mark Rosekind said that the truck left no tire marks as it careened across a median and slammed into the bus. Investigators say the bus driver tried to avoid the truck by steering the bus to the right. Passengers were ejected from the bus when the accident occurred. Rosekind says investigators plan to look at a blood test and other physical evidence.

Investigators were also interviewing a Washington couple in a Nissan Altima who said the FedEx truck was already on fire before the collision.

The truck sideswiped the Altima before hitting the bus. Their account of the crash could be a major break in the investigation.

"There was an opportunity to interview the driver and passenger in the white Altima, and the passenger didn't report seeing anything, however, the driver did report seeing flames that were coming out from the tractor-trailer prior to the crash as it was coming across the median," said Rosekind.

Officer Lacey Heitman, a spokeswoman for the California Highway Patrol, could not confirm if the truck was on fire before the collision until all evidence was gathered.

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.

So far, the fatalities in the crash have been identified as Arthur Arzola, 26, a Humboldt State University recruiter from Rancho Cucamonga; chaperones Michael Myvett and Mattison Haywood, who were engaged; Adrian Castro, an El Monte High School student; Marisa Serrato, a student at Norte Vista High School in Riverside; Ismael Jimenez and Denise Gomez, students of Animo Inglewood Charter High School; Jennifer Bonilla, a student at Dorsey High School in Los Angeles; and bus driver Talalelei Lealao-Taiao, who was initially identified as Tala Salanoa. Family members later clarified her name to Eyewitness News.

The students were on a trip to tour Humboldt State University in Arcata when the crash happened on the I-5 Freeway north of Highway 32 near Orland on Thursday. Of the 43 teenagers on board, Los Angeles Unified School District officials said 19 were from 15 LAUSD campuses.

The CHP said 34 people were taken to seven different area hospitals. Nine people were confirmed dead at the scene, and Arzola died at UC Davis Medical Center after being airlifted with severe burns.

Several remained hospitalized Saturday, including at least one in critical condition.

Miles Hill of Mount Washington broke his collarbone and suffered burns. He says that he kicked out the window in order to escape.

"Hearing the screams of those kids, most of them were younger than me, it was a little heartbreaking and survivors guilt hit me pretty hard for a couple days," said Hill. "It's gone away more or less, but I'd still like to take this moment to apologize to anyone who didn't make it."

The university chartered the buses as part of its Preview Plus program, in which students from Southern California and the San Francisco Bay Area tour the Arcata campus, according to university officials. Two other buses did arrive, and the university was providing those students with counseling. Those students who arrived returned home Saturday earlier than scheduled after the university cut the day short following the tragedy.

The National Transportation Safety Board recommended new rules to make large buses safer15 years ago, but they were never put into practice. The proposal made in 1999 would have made it easier for passengers to open windows.

In Thursday's crash, many of those onboard had to literally squeeze through.

The transportation agency has not said why the safety recommendation was never adopted, but did say in a statement that it is working on new bus evacuation regulations to stop any similar incidents from happening in the future.

Silverado Stages, the San Luis Obispo, Calif.-based company that owns the charter bus involved in the crash, has a strong safety record, and it has said it is fully cooperating with the investigation.

Meantime, support is growing for the victims' families. The Red Cross has set up a 24-hour hotline to for any of the families involved. The Red Cross is providing mental health and shelter services, and travel or transportation assistance.

The Red Cross hotline can be reached at 1 (800) 540-2000.

The LAUSD has also established a 24-hour help line for any concerned parents: (213) 241-3841. The help line will be in operation indefinitely. Parents can also call Humboldt State University at (707) 826 6327.

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.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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