College visit turns tragic for California students
By FENIT NIRAPPIL
and CHANNING JOSEPH
the associated press | April 12,2014
As two trucks lift, an excavator, helps push the remains of a tour bus onto the bed of a flatbed truck Friday as it is removed from the scene of a multi-vehicle accident in Orlando Calif. At least 10 people were killed and dozens injured in the fiery crash Thursday between a FedEx truck and a bus carrying high school students on a visit to a Northern California College.
ORLAND, Calif. — A college visit by more than 40 high school students turned tragic when a FedEx tractor-trailer veered across a grassy highway median and slammed into their bus in a fiery wreck that left 10 people dead in Northern California, authorities said.
Someone kicked out a window on the bus, and many of those aboard squeezed through and ran for their lives Thursday to the other side of Interstate 5 before the vehicle exploded in flames.
The 44 teenagers aboard, nearly half from the Los Angeles school district, were participating in a program that invites prospective low-income or first-generation college students to visit Humboldt State University in far Northern California.
Steven Clavijo, a high school senior from Santa Clarita who planned to enroll at the school, was trying to catch a nap on the bus when he felt the vehicle begin to shake from left to right and then he heard a loud boom.
“We knew we were in major trouble,” he said.
After he escaped, two more explosions soon followed. Clavijo and other survivors looked on, knowing others were still trapped in the inferno.
Both drivers were killed, along with three adult chaperones and five teenage students, according to the California Highway Patrol.
Towering flames devoured both vehicles just after the crash, and clouds of smoke billowed into the sky until firefighters doused the fire, leaving behind scorched black hulks of metal. Bodies were draped in blankets inside the burned-out bus.
Most of the people who died were found on the ground in front of the bus or in the front portion of the bus, Glenn County Sheriff Larry Jones said. Identifying the victims might require the use of dental records or DNA, Jones said.
CHP Lt. Commander Bruce Carpenter said one person was seen running from the bus on fire. The person later died after being taken to a hospital, he said.
Three buses were traveling to the school, but only one was involved in the wreck, said Earl Perkins, assistant superintendent of operations for the Los Angeles schools district. The bus that crashed was traveling a few hours behind the other two.
Nineteen of the students on the bus were from the Los Angeles schools, Perkins said.
The National Transportation Safety Board sent a team to investigate.
“Every piece of paper associated with this will be looked at,” said Eric M. Weiss, an NTSB spokesman.
The California Highway Patrol said Friday investigators were looking into various factors to determine what caused the FedEx tractor-trailer to veer across the median and hit the bus.
Those factors include whether the FedEx driver fell asleep, experienced mechanical failure or lost control because of a separate collision on the southbound side of the freeway, Lt. Scott Fredrick said at a news conference. Authorities also will probe roadway and weather conditions.
“Since these are such in-depth, detailed investigations, we don’t expect to have a final report for a minimum of three months, 90 days,” Fredrick said. “It could take as long as six months depending on what the investigation entails.”
The crash happened a little after 5:30 p.m. on the interstate near Orland, a small city about 100 miles north of Sacramento.
The bus was among three the university had chartered as part of its two-day Preview Plus program to bring prospective students from Southern California and the San Francisco Bay Area to tour the Arcata campus, according to university officials. The other two buses made it to campus, and the university was providing those students with counseling.