(Adds NTSB saying bus tracking module likely destroyed,
By Sharon Bernstein
SACRAMENTO, Calif., April 12 Investigators were
focusing on Saturday on what caused a FedEx tractor-trailer to
collide with a bus in a fiery crash in northern California that
killed 10 people, five of them teenage students en route to a
college recruitment event.
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 on Thursday evening.
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. Early highway patrol accounts of the
accident said the truck side-swiped a car after crossing the
center divider, before hitting the bus.
Two witnesses, Bonnie and Joe Duran, who were reported to be
in the clipped car, told California media outlets that the truck
was on fire before the collision.
"I was heading along in the outside lane and I looked over
and saw the FedEx truck coming straight for me and he was in
flames already," Bonnie Duran told a local CBS television
Reuters could not immediately contact the Durans and a
California Highway Patrol spokeswoman did not immediately
respond to requests for comment.
A powerful explosion unleashed by the impact was heard
throughout the nearby community of Orland, about 90 miles (145
km) north of Sacramento, said Glenn County Sheriff Larry Jones.
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 FedEx 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 are likely to remain on-site for about two weeks
for the board's independent review of the accident.
Most of the FedEx truck, which was hauling two
semi-trailers, was consumed in the fire, Mark Rosekind, an NTSB
investigator, said at a briefing late on Friday. But, he added,
there were sufficient remains of both drivers for authorities to
have collected samples for blood and toxicology analysis.
"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.
On Saturday, an NTSB spokesman said there was a chance that
the fire destroyed any electronic tracking modules on the bus
that would have recorded the speed and braking.
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.
Among those killed was Humboldt State recruiter Arthur
Arzola, 26, who worked for the university out of the Southern
California community of Rancho Cucamonga.
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
(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,
Jonathan Allen in New York and Colleen Jenkins from North
Carolina; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Scott Malone and