The probe into last Thursday’s fiery bus-big rig collision on Interstate 5 was focused in Los Angeles this week, where federal investigators planned to interview witnesses and meet with the owners of the bus that carried nine of the 10 people killed in the collision.
National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) member Mark Rosekind said the new tour bus carrying 44 Los Angeles-area students, three chaperones and its driver to Humboldt State University in Arcata had seat belts. He said investigators have fanned out in the Los Angeles area to interview survivors to determine if bus passengers were using seat belts before the crash, which took the lives of five high school students and five adults.
Whether passengers were instructed—or should have been instructed—on seat-belt use and emergency evacuation are “critical questions we’ll be looking at,” Rosekind said.
Investigators plan to meet with the coach’s owner, Silverado Stages of San Luis Obispo, in Los Angeles, he said.
“Silverado Stages is helping the authorities in gathering information regarding the tragic accident that occurred on Thursday evening,” the company said on its website.
Bonnie Duran—a suburban Seattle resident who reported that the FedEx truck was on fire as it crossed the grass median, hit the Nissan Altima in which she and her husband were passengers, then smashed into the school bus—also shot video after the crash that has been made available to the NTSB, Rosekind said.
Other witnesses have contradicted Duran’s account of the FedEx big rig being on fire before the crash and Rosekind said, “There is no evidence of pre-impact fire located at the crash scene, in the center median or on the highway lanes.”
Investigators will study the video from a CHP cruiser to find out how survivors escaped through rows of emergency windows as smoke and flames filled the coach, Rosekind said.
The names of all 10 fatalities have been released.
The students who died were:
—Denise Gomez and Ismael Jimenez, the reigning homecoming queen and king at Animo Charter High School in Inglewood;
—Jennifer Bonilla, an honor student at Los Angeles Dorsey High School who recently had won a college scholarship and was considered a campus leader by school administrators;
—Adrian Castro, a popular El Monte High School football player who fellow students referred to as a positive role model;
—Marisa Serrato, a well-liked, church-going attendee of Norte Vista High School in Riverside, whose identical twin, Marisol, made the trip on a different bus and was not injured.
The five adults killed in the crash were:
—School tour bus driver Talalelei Lealao-Taiao, previously identified as Tala Salanoa. Investigators said it appears she slammed on the brakes and tried to swerve to the right to avoid hitting the FedEx big rig hurtling toward the bus;
—Chaperone Arthur Arzola, 26, of Rancho Cucamonga, who was a college recruiter helping to lead the excursion to Humboldt State;
—Chaperones Mattison Haywood and her fiance, 29-year-old Michael Myvett, a therapist for autistic children at a Torrance facility. Family members said the couple got engaged during a Christmas vacation in Paris;
—FedEx truck driver Tim Evans, 32, a lifelong resident of the Sacramento area who had married his high school sweetheart, fathered two daughters and helped coach their soccer and softball teams.
Cellphone records for Evans were being sought to see if he had been using it while driving, Rosekind said.
FedEx is supplying an identical truck to the NTSB for survey work. The 2007 Volvo tractor had two semi-trailers, the front one about half-full, Rosekind said.
Rosekind noted that no median barrier was required on rural freeways where the travel lanes are greater than 50 feet apart.
The median of the Orland-area 5 freeway, built in 1964, is 58 feet wide and had not been the scene of a previous crossover crash, he said.
Numerous similar stretches of Interstate 5 in the Central Valley recently have had center barriers added by Caltrans.
The California Highway Patrol today asked that any witnesses or anyone who took photographs or video of the collision was asked to call Officer Lacey Heitman at (562) 225-2715; email, email@example.com.