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College visit turns tragic for California students

April 11, 2014

ORLAND, California (AP) — A university visit by more than 40 high school students turned tragic when a FedEx truck veered across a grassy highway median and slammed into their bus in a fiery wreck that left 10 people dead, 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 a major highway before the vehicle exploded in flames.

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.

The 44 teenagers aboard, nearly half from the Los Angeles school district, were participating in a program that invites prospective low-income 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.

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.

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.

The crash happened a little after 5:30 p.m. local time on an interstate highway about north of Sacramento.

The bus was owned by Silverado Stages, a tour bus company based in San Luis Obispo. The company said in a statement on its website Thursday night that it was assisting authorities in gathering information.

Crisis counselors were also being made available at Los Angeles schools.

A highway patrol dispatcher says the bus and truck were on opposite sides of the freeway when the truck crossed the median and slammed into the bus, causing an explosion and fire.

Investigators say the truck driver might have been trying to avoid a passenger car that was also involved in the crash, which shut down the freeway.

A first responder who helped set up a triage at the scene said 36 or 37 people were hurt, with injuries that included burns, broken legs and noses and head lacerations.

Eleven people were taken to Enloe Medical Center in Chico. Two of those patients were listed in critical condition Friday morning, the hospital said.

At least seven people were hospitalized at other facilities. Two of them were in critical condition and five others in fair condition.

Eight crash survivors spent the night at the American Red Cross, said Jordan Scott, a Red Cross spokesman.

A FedEx spokeswoman said the company was cooperating with authorities as they investigate.


Joseph reported from San Francisco. Associated Press photographer Rick Pedroncelli in Orland, Associated Press writers Lisa Leff, Scott Smith and Sudhin Thanawala in San Francisco and Daisy Nguyen and Tami Abdollah in Los Angeles contributed to this story.

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