* Truck loses control, smashes head-on into bus
* High school students were on way to visit university
* 10 killed, more than 30 injured in crash north of
(Recasts with further details on investigation, NTSB comments)
By Sharon Bernstein
SACRAMENTO, Calif., April 11 The investigation
into a fiery crash between a FedEx tractor- trailer and a bus
that killed 10 people in northern California, five of them
teenage students en route to a college recruitment event,
focused Friday on what caused the truck to veer out of control.
A day after the accident, it remained unclear whether the
FedEx driver was somehow distracted or lost consciousness, or
whether a mechanical failure occurred when his truck swerved
across the median of Interstate 5 and slammed head-on into the
motor coach full of students from the Los Angeles area.
The California Highway Patrol also raised the possibility
that a separate collision on the truck's side of the highway
might have been a factor in Thursday evening's fatal crash.
According to early highway patrol accounts of the accident,
the truck side-swiped a car after crossing the center divider
but before hitting the bus.
A powerful explosion unleashed by the impact was so loud it
was heard throughout the nearby community of Orland, about 90
miles (145 km) north of Sacramento, said Glenn County Sheriff
Among the dead were the two drivers, as well as five high
school students and a college recruiter on their way north to
visit Humboldt State University in Arcata, California, as part
of a program to help disadvantaged college hopefuls.
More than 30 others were injured in the wreck.
"We don't know whether the Fed-Ex driver had fallen asleep,
whether he experienced a mechanical failure with his vehicle or
whether there was a separate collision on the southbound side
that caused him to lose control," said Lieutenant Scott
Fredrick, the lead Highway Patrol investigator.
A team of investigators from the National Transportation
Safety Board began arriving on Friday morning to gather evidence
for that agency's independent review of the accident.
NTSB member Mark Rosekind told a news conference late in the
day he expected his team to remain on site for about two weeks
and would not speculate on the probable cause of the crash.
He said the NTSB probe would examine human factors as well
as "the machine and the environment," including highway design
elements, vehicle inspection records and driver training and
The FedEx truck, which was hauling two semi-trailers, was
mostly consumed in the fire that followed the crash, but
Rosekind said there were sufficient remains of both drivers for
authorities to have collected samples for blood and toxicology
"So right now, one of the things we're in the process of
doing is seeing whether or not those required samples were
actually collected," he added.
The fire was so intense that it could be days or weeks
before some of the bodies can be identified, and investigators
will have to rely on dental records or in some cases DNA
testing, he said.
TWO OTHER BUSES ARRIVED SAFELY
The stricken motor coach was one of three buses of students
traveling from Southern California to participate in a spring
break recruitment program at Humboldt State. The two other buses
had arrived safely at the campus before the third bus crashed,
Nestled near the redwoods about 100 miles (161 km) south of
the Oregon border, the university every year invites high school
seniors from disadvantaged backgrounds or who may be the first
in their families to attend college to tour the campus.
The Los Angeles Unified School District, the largest in
Southern California, said some of the 19 students from its high
schools who were on the tour rode on the ill-fated bus, but it
could not say whether any of them were among the victims.
Apart from the driver, the bus was carrying 44 to 48
students and several chaperones, highway patrol spokeswoman
Lacey Heitman said. About 34 people were taken by air and land
ambulances to hospitals with a variety of injuries, police said.
"They are traumatized, absolutely," another patrol
spokeswoman, Tracy Hoover, said. "Most of them have scratches,
cuts, burns, contusions and lacerations."
Among those killed was Humboldt State recruiter Arthur
Arzola, 26, who worked for the university out of the Southern
California community of Rancho Cucamonga, the Sacramento County
coroner said on Friday morning.
The school's website describes Arzola as a counselor and
recruiter. In a biography on the site, Arzola characterized
himself as hard-working, compassionate and friendly, and
described the university as offering "incredible opportunities
that change the world for the better."
A recently engaged couple serving as chaperones were also
among the dead, local media reported.
Jonathan Gutierrez, 17, told NBC's "Today" show that after
the crash the bus filled with smoke and students broke windows
to escape. "It was a very surreal moment," he said.
"All of a sudden I heard people screaming," said Gutierrez,
who had been asleep before the impact.
Pictures from the scene showed the bus reduced to a
burned-out chassis resting sideways across the highway. Yellow
tarps were draped over what appeared to be bodies in the
"The big rig and the bus were both engulfed in flames. You
are talking about two vehicles that are destroyed. There is
hardly anything left of the truck," Hoover said.
Bonnie Kourvelas, a spokeswoman for FedEx Corp,
said the company was aware that one of its trucks was involved
in the crash and is "cooperating fully with authorities."
Humboldt State President Rollin Richmond said the students
were to attend a spring preview event on Friday.
"Our hearts go out to those who have been affected, and we
are here to support them, and their families, in any way
possible," he said in a written statement.
(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento, Dana Feldman, Dan
Whitcomb and Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles and Eric Johnson in
Seattle; Additional reporting by Laila Kearney in San Francisco
and Colleen Jenkins from North Carolina; Writing by Steve
Gorman; Editing by Cynthia Johnston, Richard Chang, Gunna
Dickson and Ken Wills)