Local, state and federal officials on Friday were investigating a crash in Northern California that killed 10 people when a big rig struck a car and a charter bus carrying prospective college students from the Los Angeles area, authorities said.
The collision occurred about 5:40 p.m. Thursday on the 5 Freeway near the small town of Orland, about 100 miles north of Sacramento, according to Lt. Lacey Heitman of the California Highway Patrol.
A FedEx truck was heading southbound when it crossed a 60-foot grassy median and crashed head on into the bus, which was in northbound lanes, National Transportation Board Member Mark Rosekind said.
Both vehicles exploded in flames, sending plumes of thick black smoke high into the air.
Very little remained of the FedEx truck, which had been hauling two semi-trailers, Rosekind said. The bus was a charred shell, images from the scene showed.
Forty-eight people were on the bus — 44 students, three chaperones and one driver, the CHP said.
Five students were killed in the collision, as were the three chaperones and the drivers of the bus and the big rig, according to CHP Lt. Bruce Carpenter.
Nine victims were pronounced dead at the scene, Carpenter said. One other victim, who suffered severe burns, died after being airlifted to UC Davis Medical Center.
The big rig swiped a third vehicle, a Nissan Altima, before hitting the bus, authorities said. The car’s occupants, who were not seriously injured, were among the 31 people who were transported to seven local hospitals.
Of the 11 victims who were taken to Enloe Medical Center in Chico, two were in serious condition, three were in fair condition and six were discharged, according to Stacy Vincent, nurse manager of the hospital’s emergency department. She spoke at a Friday morning news conference.
The bus was one of three that were headed to Humboldt State University in Arcata, where the students had planned to visit the campus for two days and stay in residence halls as part of the school’s Preview Plus program.
The program is for admitted students from traditionally underrepresented students recruited from Los Angeles, San Francisco and Fresno, according to the university.
“Those involved are typically from low-income backgrounds or are the first generation in their family to attend college,” the university said in a statement.
The two other buses had already arrived at the campus, about 200 miles northwest of Orland, when the collision occurred, the NTSB’s Rosekind said at a Friday evening news conference.
One of the other buses was from the Los Angeles area, while the other was from the Fresno area, authorities said.
Federal investigators planned to remain in the area of the crash — near the small city of Orland, just west of Chico — for one to two weeks. Their focus will be gathering “perishable information” such as witness accounts, Rosekind said.
One of the deceased chaperones was identified by the Sacramento County Coroner’s Office as 26-year-old Arthur Arzola, who had been Humboldt State’s admissions representative in the Los Angeles area for the past year.
Arzola’s colleagues remembered him “for his passionate commitment to helping low-income and first-generation students get into college,” the school said in a statement. “He dedicated his career to that work.”
A therapist who worked with people with autism was also among those dead, according to his employer, Center for Autism and Related Disorders in Torrance.
Michael Myvett, a Humboldt State alumnus, had worked at the center for two years and had just proposed to his fiancee in Paris in December, according to a statement from the center. Mattison Haywood, his fiancee, died in the crash as well, a friend of the family said.
“He was beloved by his friends, family, supervisors and co-workers. He was very bubbly and positive,” the statement on Myvett read.
The family of El Monte High School senior Adrian Castro was working with officials to identify a body that may be the student’s, according to school district Superintendent Nick Salerno.
Family members flew to Northern California and were seeking dental records for Castro, Salerno said.
A memorial for Castro was growing in front of the school on Friday afternoon.
Riverside twin sisters Marisa and Marisol Serrato were among three from Norte Vista High on the bus. Marisol was being treated at a hospital, but Marisa still had not been accounted for by Friday afternoon, a classmate said.
Jennifer Bonilla, a student at Dorsey High School in the Baldwin Hills area, was also missing, friends said.
In the immediate aftermath of the collision, aerial video of the charred wreckage showed the scope of the devastation.
On the ground, video showed dozens of students wandering near the burned-out remains of the tour bus, many appearing dazed, others were bleeding from cuts to their hands and faces.
Rescuers could be seen helping several students to waiting ambulances.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone involved in the tragic accident on I-5 in California. We are cooperating fully with authorities as they investigate,” FedEx spokeswoman Bonnie Kourvelas said in a statement.
At a news conference in Los Angeles on Friday, Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent John Deasy said two LAUSD teams — comprised of counselors and support staff — were visiting students at shelters and hospitals in Glenn County.
“The team up there has point people who are arranging reconnection for parents or guardians who are on their way up there,” he said, adding that some students were returning home after being released from medical centers.
Deasy was joined at the press conference by Mayor Eric Garcetti, who said: “A city mourns today. A state mourns today — lives forever altered, lives lost, just as they were beginning to be transformed.”
The officials stressed that they could not confirm whether any of L.A. Unified students were among the fatalities.
The university’s president, Rollin C. Richmond, released a statement in which he said the school “is deeply saddened by [the] tragic accident.”
“Our hearts go out to those who have been affected, and we are here to support them, and their families, in any way possible,” Richmond said.
The Red Cross, which was providing aid to the victims, created a “Safe and Well” website where loved ones could get in touch with the trip’s participants.
The charter bus was operated by Silverado Stages, a San Luis Obispo-based business that said it was “helping authorities in gathering information regarding the tragic accident.”
“Our top priority is making sure that the injured are being cared for,” the company said in a statement on its website.
The Los Angeles School Police Association has established an “LAUSD Family Support Fund.” Those who would like to donate can do so by visiting laspoa.com, or by calling 213-216-4912 (English) or 213-500-4016 (Spanish).
The university had also created a special fund to help the victims. Information was on the alumni section of the school’s website.
KTLA’s John A. Moreno, Kennedy Ryan, Steve Kuzj, Eric Spillman, Kareen Wynter, Jennifer Thang and Melissa Pamer contributed to this report.