Investigation Begins into Deadly California Crash

NTSB examines crash scene and gathers witness reports from crash that killed 10

 

 
 
 

FENIT NIRAPPIL and JOAN LOWY, Associated Press | | Sunday, April 13, 2014

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Fatal, Fiery California Bus Crash

Seven students and two drivers killed in crash.
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RED BLUFF, Calif. (AP) — Federal investigators are looking into a driver's claim that a FedEx tractor-trailer was already on fire when it careened out-of-control across a freeway median and slammed into a bus taking high school students on a college tour, killing 10 people in a fiery wreck.

JEMS: 10 Dead in California Charter Bus, Delivery Truck Crash

The investigators are looking for more witnesses who could corroborate the driver's claim, and planned to examine crash scene evidence for clues of a fire before the vehicles exploded into towering flames on a Northern California highway, National Transportation Safety Board member Mark Rosekind said Saturday.

He said the truck left no skid marks, on either the roadway or the median, as it veered into oncoming traffic, sideswiping a Nissan Altima before crashing into the bus. Five students, three adult chaperones and both drivers died in Thursday's collision on a stretch of Interstate 5 in Orland, a small city about 100 miles north of Sacramento.

Some of the victims were thrown from the bus, Rosekind said.

The woman who drove the sedan told investigators and a KNBC-TV reporter that flames were coming from the lower rear of the truck cab.

"It was in flames as it came through the median," Bonnie Duran said. "It wasn't like the whole thing was engulfed. It was coming up wrapping around him."

Initial reports by police made no mention of a fire before the crash.

The bus was gutted and the truck was a mangled mess after the fiery crash, making it difficult for investigators to determine whether a fire started in the truck before impact. Rosekind said investigators planned to look at blood tests to determine whether the FedEx driver inhaled smoke before the collision, and whether he was impaired.

A family member told the Sacramento Bee the truck driver was Tim Evans, 32, of Elk Grove, Calif.

A blood test will also be conducted for the bus driver, who had only been driving a short time after relieving another driver during a stop in Sacramento. Rosekind said more than 145 feet of tire marks showed that the bus driver tried to brake and swerve to the right to avoid being hit.

He said the bus' black box-style electronic control module was recovered and will be analyzed. The truck's device was destroyed, but other steps will be taken to analyze its speed and maneuvering.

In addition to the cause of the crash, federal transportation authorities are examining whether fire safety measures they previously recommended for motor coaches could have allowed more of the 48 bus occupants to escape unharmed.

Bodies recovered from the bus were charred beyond recognition. Dozens of students had injuries including burns, and several remained hospitalized.

Fire safety has been a longstanding concern of the NTSB.

After a 2005 bus fire killed 23 nursing home evacuees escaping Hurricane Rita in Texas, the agency called for safety standards that could make buses less vulnerable to fire, including improved protection of fuel tanks. More recently, the NTSB says buses must have sophisticated suppression systems to control fires, much as high-rise buildings have sprinkler systems.

The NTSB, which investigates accidents and their causes, has no authority to require safety changes it recommends.

But a bill passed by Congress in June 2012 directed the Department of Transportation to conduct research and tests on ways to prevent fires or mitigate the effects, among other safety issues. That included evacuating passengers, as well automatic fire suppression, smoke suppression and improved fire extinguishers. Representatives of the bus industry told Congress that manufacturers were increasingly and voluntarily adding such features.

As part of its investigation into Thursday's crash, the NTSB will also evaluate whether there should have been a barrier on the median to help prevent head-on collisions. Barriers are required when medians are less than 50 feet wide; this one was 60.

The 44 Southern California high school students on the bus, many hoping to become the first in their families to attend college, were on a free trip arranged by Humboldt State University. The university chartered two more buses to bring more than 500 prospective students to the campus for a three-day visit. Those who made it to the university were sent home earlier than scheduled Saturday morning in light of the tragedy.

___

Joan Lowy reported from Washington, D.C. Justin Pritchard in Los Angeles contributed to this story.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Fatal, Fiery California Bus Crash

Gallery 1

Fatal, Fiery California Bus Crash

Massive flames are seen devouring both vehicles just after the crash, and clouds of smoke billowed into the sky Thursday April 10, 2014 until firefighters had quenched the fire, leaving behind scorched black hulks of metal. The FedEx tractor-trailer crossed a grassy freeway median in Northern California and slammed into the bus carrying high school students on a visit to a college. At least nine were killed in the fiery crash, authorities said. (AP Photo/Jeremy Lockett)


Gallery 1

Fatal, Fiery California Bus Crash

Massive flames are seen devouring both vehicles just after the crash, and clouds of smoke billowed into the sky Thursday April 10, 2014 until firefighters had quenched the fire, leaving behind scorched black hulks of metal. The FedEx tractor-trailer crossed a grassy freeway median in Northern California and slammed into the bus carrying high school students on a visit to a college. At least nine were killed in the fiery crash, authorities said. (AP Photo/Jeremy Lockett)


Gallery 1

Fatal, Fiery California Bus Crash

Rescuers tend to walking wounded after a fiery crash involving several vehicles, Thursday, April 10, 2014, just north of Orland, Calif., that left at least nine dead. Authorities said it is not yet clear what caused the crash but that it involved a tour bus, a FedEx truck and a Nissan Altima. (AP Photo/The Chico Enterprise-Record, Dan Reidel)


Gallery 1

Fatal, Fiery California Bus Crash

Emergency crews look over wreckage from a crash between a semi and a tour bus on Thursday, April 10, 2014, on Interstate 5 near Orland, Calif. Authorities said it is not yet clear what caused the crash but that it involved a tour bus, a FedEx truck and a Nissan Altima. At least Nine people were killed Thursday and dozens injured in the fiery crash between a FedEx delivery truck and a charter bus carrying high school students on a visit to a Northern California college, authorities said. (AP Photo/The Record Searchlight, Greg Barnette)


Gallery 1

Fatal, Fiery California Bus Crash

In this photo provided by Andrew Hutchens, authorities work the scene where nine people were killed in a three-vehicle crash involving a bus carrying high school students on a visit to a college, Thursday, April 10, 2014, near Orland, Calif. Authorities said it is not yet clear what caused the crash but that it involved a tour bus, a FedEx truck and a Nissan Altima. (AP Photo/Andrew Hutchens)


Gallery 1

Fatal, Fiery California Bus Crash

Firefighters hose down the wreckage of a bus and a semitruck that collided, Thursday, April 10, 2014, just north of Orland, Calif., that left at least nine dead. Authorities said it is not yet clear what caused the crash but that it involved a tour bus, a FedEx truck and a Nissan Altima. (AP Photo/The Chico Enterprise-Record, Dan Reidel)



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