Bus Crash Investigators to Visit Witnesses in Los Angeles

The new bus did have seat belts. The question is, did students and adults use them?

Photo courtesy the National Transportation Safety Board
Photo courtesy the National Transportation Safety Board

Federal investigators were moving to Los Angeles today to interview witnesses to last Thursday's bus catastrophe on Interstate 5, and meet with the owners of the ill-fated bus taking high school students to a college preview.

National Transportation Safety Board member Mark Rosekind in Orland told reporters today that the brand new bus had passenger seat belts, and said investigators were fanning out in the Los Angeles area today to interview survivors to see if the seat belts worked, and if the adults and teens on the bus were using them in the seconds before the crash that killed 10 people.

Late Saturday, reporters learned that an Inglewood charter school's homecoming queen and king were among the 10 people killed when a FedEx truck crossed an Interstate 5 median near the Northern California community of Orland and struck a bus carrying Los Angeles-area students to a weekend college visit. Five students, three counselors and the bus and truck drivers were all killed.

At a noon-hour news conference today, Rosekind said investigators would look at video from a CHP cruiser to see how survivors got out the rows of emergency windows as smoke and flame filled the coach.

And whether passengers had been instructed -- or should have been instructed -- on seat belt use and emergency evacuation are "critical questions ... we'll be looking at," the federal investigator said.

The driver of a Nissan Altima, who reported that a Federal Express truck was aflame as it crossed the center divider, hit her car and then smashed into the bus, also shot video after th crash that has been made available to the NTSB, Rosekind said.

But "there is no evidence of pre-impact fire located at the crash scene, in the center median or on the highway lanes," he said. Other witnesses have also contradicted the Washington woman's account of the wrong-side truck being on fire.

Cellphone records for the FedEx truck driver, Tim Evans, 32, were being sought to see if he had been on the computer while driving, Rosekind said.

FedEx is supplying an identical truck to the NTSB for survey work. The Volvo tractor had two semi-trailers, and the front one was half full, Rosekind told reporters today.

Rosekind noted that no barrier was required on rural freeways where the travel lanes are greater than 50 feet apart. The Orland-area freeway was built in 1964, he said, and the median is 58 feet wide.

Numerous similar stretches of Interstate 5 in the Central Valley have just had center barriers added by Caltrans, however. And Rosekind said crossover crashes have not happened in the Orland area.

"A lot of the investigation has moved to the Los Angeles area, especially for interviews of witnesses and the gathering of documents and information," Rosekind said. NTSB officials planned to meet with the owners of the bus company, Silverado Stages of San Luis Obispo, in Los Angeles today, he said.

On Saturday, family members and school friends confirmed that two of the victims, Denise Gomez and Ismael Jimenez, were students at Animo Charter High School in Inglewood who were the school's homecoming queen and king.

Evans, the FedEx driver, was a lifelong resident of the Sacramento area who had married his high school sweetheart, fathered two daughters and helped coach their soccer and softball teams.

The bus driver was identified by family members as Tala Salanoa, age unknown, according to ABC7, which later reported that Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent John Deasy confirmed that Dorsey High School student Jennifer Bonilla also died in the crash.

Five students and five adults -- the bus driver, the truck driver and three chaperones -- were killed, according to the California Highway Patrol.

One chaperone was identified as Arthur Arzola, 26, of Rancho Cucamonga, who was a college recruiter.

El Monte High School senior Adrian Castro was also killed. Castro was a popular football player at the school.

A 17-year-old girl, Marisa Serrato, who attended Norte Vista High School in Riverside, was among those killed, her family told reporters. Her identical twin, Marisol, made the trip on a different bus and was not injured.

The two other chaperones who died previously were identified as Mattison Haywood and her fiance, 29-year-old Michael Myvett. Myvett was a therapist for autistic children at a Torrance facility.

The pair got engaged in Paris on Christmas Day, according to various media reports.

Officials said 31 people were taken to seven hospitals following the crash. Nine people died at the scene, and one person who suffered severe burns died at a hospital.

The students were scheduled to visit Humboldt State University in Arcata when their bus, which was chartered by the university, collided with the big rig around 5:30 p.m. on Thursday. The students had been accepted or were considering attending the university.

The 48 occupants of the bus included 44 students, according to the Los Angeles district.

The Red Cross has set up a hotline for families, no matter where they live in California, who have been impacted by the crash. By calling (800) 540- 2000, families will be connected to local Red Cross chapters in their area where caseworkers will be available to meet those who may need assistance with travel or transportation expenses, Terri Corigliano of the Red Cross said.

--City News Service

George Kafantaris April 13, 2014 at 11:58 PM
Hauling double trailers is inherently dangerous even for levelheaded and experienced drivers. Here we have a 32 year old who "had only been driving a short time after relieving another driver during a stop in Sacramento." Who in God's sake put this fellow behind the wheel, all in a big hurry to pass a slower van ahead of him? Wanna know what it's like to drive a semi? An old driver said it's like walking while steadying a pan full of water. Hauling double trailers is like steadying two pans -- each with a mind of its own. No abrupt changes; more like sailing than driving. No problem going straight -- so long as you don't look in the mirrors and get dizzy by the trailers wavering back and forth. But if you've gotta stop, you'll need lots of room. And if you end up in the grassy median, you might need to stay on the gas to get things under control. Before you know it you're on the other side of the road broadsiding a bus full of kids. Inherently dangerous, indeed.
joebanana April 14, 2014 at 10:36 AM
What a joke they're making of this. The reason for this crash is California's criminal negligence. Obviously the "distance" between opposing traffic traveling at 80 MPH doesn't matter. A "K" rail between the two vehicles would have PREVENTED this crash, undoubtedly. But Ca. would rather pay their public criminals outrages salaries, than invest a little of that money on HIGHWAY SAFETY. I hope all the families of the crash victims know that they need to SUE THE HELL OUT OF the state of California .
Stoked April 14, 2014 at 12:00 PM
It's all about $$$$$. No K rails or bigger trucks. If you think that double trailers are scary you might want to steer clear of Oregon mountain highways where FedEx tows triples.
Henry Xavier April 14, 2014 at 03:49 PM
I think the texting, messaging may be a big part of this accident. Please don't drive and use a electronic device. Profesional or a 17 year old girl driving dads truck. Its very scary. I see it all the time. She has it planted on the windshield in her view next to the steering wheel. peace.


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