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UPDATE: SCV student among those on bus in fatal crash

West Ranch High student describes horrific scene

Posted: April 11, 2014 7:22 a.m.
Updated: April 11, 2014 11:11 a.m.

The shell of a bus sits on the side of the freeway after the crash. AP Photo/Andrew Hutchens

 

A West Ranch High School student was among the survivors aboard a Humboldt State Unversity-bound bus hit by a FedEx truck, killing 10 and injuring at least 30 in Northern California.

West Ranch senior Steven Clavijo, who planned to enroll at the university, was trying to catch a nap when he felt the vehicle begin to shake from left to right and then he heard a loud boom Thursday evening on Interstate 5.

“We knew we were in major trouble,” he told The Associated Press following the crash near Orland in Northern California.

After he escaped, two more explosions followed. Clavijo and other survivors looked on, knowing others were still trapped in the inferno, he said.

West Ranch High School was the only Santa Clarita Valley school listed as having students aboard the three-bus convoy headed to Humboldt State. Only one bus was involved in the fatal crash.

“We have learned that West Ranch High School senior Steven Clavijo, 18, was on the bus involved in the northern California crash last night, on its way to Humboldt State University for Spring Preview Day,” said Gail Pinsker, spokeswoman for the William S. Hart Union High School District.

Pinsker said district officials are working to confirm whether Clavijo was injured in the crash. Hart district officials do not believe any other students were involved in the incident.

“This trip was arranged by Humboldt State and not West Ranch High School or the Hart school district and included dozens of students from the Los Angeles area,” Pinsker said. “We do not believe that any other students from Hart district schools were involved.

“Our hearts and thoughts go out to the families and friends of all the students and adults who did not survive and were injured in this horrific accident,” Pinsker said.

The trip to Humboldt was arranged by the university, not the local school districts, and the event occurred during spring break. Many of the students aboard the bus were from Los Angeles Unified School District.

The collision occurred when a FedEx tractor-trailer veered across a grassy highway median and slammed into the bus. More than 40 people were aboard the bus. Ten were killed in the crash, including the drivers of both vehicles.

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.

Many of the survivors squeezed through a window that was kicked out on the bus and ran for their lives to the other side of Interstate 5 before the vehicle exploded in flames.

The students aboard the bus convoy were participating in the university’s two-day Preview Plus a program that invites prospective low-income or first-generation college students to visit Humboldt State University.

The National Transportation Safety Board sent a team to investigate the collision.

“Every piece of paper associated with this will be looked at,” said Eric M. Weiss, an NTSB spokesman.

The crash happened a little after 5:30 p.m. on I-5 near Orland, a small city about 100 miles 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.

“Our top priority is making sure that the injured are being cared for,” the company said.

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

Sabrina Garcia, a high school senior from Los Angeles, said the tour began Thursday, with buses taking students in Southern California on the ride to the campus for a three-day stay. She said she decided to postpone the tour because she had a school project to complete.

“I was devastated when I heard about the crash, and relieved that I didn’t attend,” Garcia said. “I can’t imagine how those kids feel. You think you’re going somewhere safe with your school — and you end up in an accident.”

A CHP 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 north and southbound traffic on the freeway.

“There was a small white sedan in front of the truck,” Heitman said. “The FedEx vehicle did sideswipe the sedan before it crossed the median.”

No one in the car was injured.

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.

“The victims were teenage kids. A lot of them were freaked out. They were shocked. They still couldn’t grasp what happened,” said Jason Wyman of the Orland Volunteer Fire Department.

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.

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

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