Investigators don’t know what caused a deadly highway crash that killed 10 people Thursday after a FedEx truck hit a bus that was taking teenagers to tour a college campus in Northern California. It could be months before they have answers, officials say.
The crash triggered explosions and a fire that reportedly killed five students and five adults – the two vehicles’ drivers, in addition to three people associated with the college program. Some survivors have said they’re alive because they managed to get out of windows and get clear of the blast.
Mark Rosekind, who leads the National Transportation Safety Board team at the crash site, says investigators are focusing on gathering what he calls “perishable information,” ranging from fresh witness accounts to equipment and hardware that could help explain the tragedy.
The accident occurred Thursday afternoon on Interstate 5 near the town of Orland, 100 miles north of Sacramento. A witness says the FedEx truck was already on fire before it hit the tour bus.
“I was heading along the outside lane. And I looked over and saw the FedEx truck coming right for me and it was on fire already,” Bonnie Duran told KCBS radio in San Francisco Friday. Duran’s car was reportedly the first vehicle the truck hit. They had been traveling in the same direction as the tour buses – northward – when the truck diverged from its southbound lane and headed for them.
Dozens of people were hospitalized after the crash. The names of those killed began to be released Friday, as families were notified. A list of victims and those missing after the crash has been compiled by The Los Angeles Times.
Saying that the teenage victims were students “who have done all the right academic things,” California State University system chancellor Timothy White said at a Friday news conference, “The great irony here, the great sadness, is these are the very students that California needs to be successful going forward.”
“Humboldt alumni Michael Myvett, 29, and his fiancee, Mathison Haywood, who were chaperoning, also were killed,” reports NPR member station KQED. “Myvett was a therapist at an autism treatment center.”
Adding a sense of uncertainty to the process of identifying victims is the fact that some students evidently switched seats from their assigned buses so they could sit with their friends. Among them were twin sisters Marisa and Marisol Serrato, who were on different buses. As of Friday evening, their family had heard from Marisol, but not from Marisa, who KQED says was on the bus that was struck.
The students had been traveling from the Los Angeles area to visit Humboldt State University, which arranged the trip as part of its program to encourage low-income or first-generation students to attend the school.
The section of I-5 where the crash happened doesn’t have a hard barrier separating the two lanes, because they’re more than 50 feet apart, as The Los Angeles Times reports.