College visit turns tragic for California students after fiery b - ABC 33/40 - Birmingham News, Weather, Sports

College visit turns tragic for California students after fiery bus crash leaves 10 dead

Posted: Updated:
A college visit by more than 40 high school students turned tragic when a FedEx tractor-trailer veered across a grassy highway median and slammed into their bus in a fiery wreck that left 10 people dead. (AP Photos/Jeff Chiu) A college visit by more than 40 high school students turned tragic when a FedEx tractor-trailer veered across a grassy highway median and slammed into their bus in a fiery wreck that left 10 people dead. (AP Photos/Jeff Chiu)

ORLAND, Calif. (AP) — It was a busload of opportunity: young, low-income, motivated students, destined to become the first in their families to go to college, journeying from the concrete sprawl of Los Angeles to a remote redwood campus 650 miles north.

Those dreams were shattered for some Thursday in an explosive freeway crash that left 10 dead — students, chaperones and both drivers — and dozens hospitalized.

Desperate families awaited word from loved ones Friday, while investigators tried to figure out why a southbound FedEx big rig swerved across the grassy divide of California's key artery before sideswiping a car and slamming into the tour bus, which burst into a furious blaze.

"We're trying to think positively," said Miguel Serrato, whose twin 17-year-old sisters had set off on the adventure Thursday on separate buses. Marisol made it to their destination, Humboldt State University, but there was no word from Marisa, who had been aboard the now-gutted bus.

But when a sheriff's deputy asked her father Friday morning for Marisa's dental records, a grim call made to several families Friday, Serrato said his family as "getting a little bit scared." His mother was booking a flight to head north.

The bus was among three Humboldt had chartered as part of its two-day Preview Plus program to bring prospective students to tour the Arcata campus, according to university officials. Before launching the event Friday, university Vice President Peg Blake's voice broke as she asked a crowded theater for a moment of silence in honor of everyone affected by the accident.

Most survivors were injured, some with critical burns or broken limbs. Those who made it out said they scrambled through a kicked-out window. One was in flames. Those who could sprinted, others staggered, in a desperate dash to the opposite side of Interstate 5 before the vehicle exploded.

"We knew we were in major trouble," said Steven Clavijo, a high school senior from Santa Clarita, who was trying to nap when he felt the bus shake before a loud boom.

After he escaped, two more explosions followed. Clavijo and other survivors watched helplessly, knowing their peers were trapped in the inferno.

Explosions of orange flames engulfed both vehicles, and clouds of black 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.

Massive flames are seen devouring both vehicles just after the crash, and clouds of smoke billowed into the sky Thursday April 10, 2014 until firefighters had quenched the fire, leaving behind scorched black hulks of metal. (AP Photo/Jeremy Lockett)

"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.

Both drivers were killed, along with three adult chaperones and five teenage students, according to the California Highway Patrol, which reached the scene shortly after the 5:30 p.m. accident about 100 miles north of Sacramento. Rescuers said the bodies were mostly at the front of the bus, or outside on the ground in front of it.

Humboldt admissions counselor Arthur Arzola, 26, who worked out of Los Angeles, was among the dead. His passion for bringing kids to the university was evident on his "Meet the Counselors" webpage: Humboldt "provides all students on campus with incredible opportunities that change the world for the better."

The 44 teenagers aboard, from 31 different Southern California high schools, were participating in a program that invites prospective low-income or first-generation college students to visit Humboldt.

The fact that the students were at a pivotal moment of their young lives exacerbated the tragedy for school officials.

"These injuries and loss of life are made all the more poignant by the fact that these students were preparing for college, poised on the edge of an exciting time full of possibility," State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said.

Los Angeles Superintendent John Deasy said the students were "about to visit a place that was obviously going to be a part of their dreams."

Timothy White, chancellor of the 23-campus California State University system, said it was a great irony and sadness that "these are the very students that California needs to be successful going forward."

"And so we are doubly saddened by the fact that many of them are first generation and students from low income, who have done all the right academic things and had their dream of going to Humboldt State taken away by this tragic accident," he said.

The California Highway Patrol and the National Transportation Safety Board were investigating, but warned it could take months for them to conclude what happened.

___

Associated Press photographer Rick Pedroncelli in Orland, Associated Press writers Lisa Leff in San Francisco and Daisy Nguyen, Tami Abdollah and Justin Pritchard in Los Angeles contributed to this story.

  • Latest StoriesMore>>

  • Lawyer for doctors: Man's claims of botched circumcision, amputated penis are untrue

    Lawyer for doctors: Man's claims of botched circumcision, amputated penis are untrue

    Friday, July 25 2014 12:09 PM EDT2014-07-25 16:09:09 GMT
     Two doctors are denying claims by an Alabama man who says his penis was amputated during what was supposed to be a routine circumcision.More >>
     Two doctors are denying claims by an Alabama man who says his penis was amputated during what was supposed to be a routine circumcision.
    More >>
  • Black box found at Air Algerie wreckage site

    Black box found at Air Algerie wreckage site

    Friday, July 25 2014 11:34 AM EDT2014-07-25 15:34:18 GMT
    French officials say that the wreckage of an Air Algeria plane which crashed with 116 people aboard has been found in Mali.More >>
    French soldiers recovered a black box from the Air Algerie wreckage site in a desolate region of restive northern Mali on Friday, officials said. Terrorism hasn't been ruled out as a cause, although officials say the...More >>
  • Antioch Baptist Church Plans Several Events to Honor Pastor Quinton Earl Hammond

    Birmingham Pastor Reaches Milestone

    Birmingham Pastor Reaches Milestone

    Friday, July 25 2014 10:50 AM EDT2014-07-25 14:50:40 GMT
    This is the 40th year of preaching for Dr. Quinton Earl Hammond. Thirty-four of those years were spent at Antioch Baptist Church.
    More >>
    This is the 40th year of preaching for Dr. Quinton Earl Hammond. Thirty-four of those years were spent at Antioch Baptist Church. Today, members wore black tee-shirts which boast how they feel about their beloved pastor. The shirts read, "We love our Pastor." Meanwhile, the Pastor of the church sports a tee-shirt that reads, "I love my church." Reverend Hammond's achievements are being celebrated at a black-tie Gala planned for August 8th 2014 at the Boutwell Auditorium in Birmingham. A s...More >>
  • Lane Closures Planned as Wire Rails are Installed, Asphalt Paving, Grading Work Done

    Lane Closures Planned as Wire Rails are Installed, Asphalt Paving, Grading Work Done

    Friday, July 25 2014 10:50 AM EDT2014-07-25 14:50:03 GMT
    If you drive along Interstate 459, you might want to budget more travel time. Guard-rail, grading work and asphalt paving work is set to begin along the highway. Work on the north and southbound on I-459 in Hoover is set to begin this weekend. The inside lanes will be shut down from the Al 150 interchange to the U-S 31 interchange...Sunday through Tuesday nights, from 7 PM until 6 AM. Aldot plans to install cable rails to keep drivers from crossing over into oncoming traffic. A series of fa...More >>
    If you drive along Interstate 459, you might want to budget more travel time. Guard-rail, grading work and asphalt paving work is set to begin along the highway. Work on the north and southbound on I-459 in Hoover is set to begin this weekend. The inside lanes will be shut down from the Al 150 interchange to the U-S 31 interchange...Sunday through Tuesday nights, from 7 PM until 6 AM. Aldot plans to install cable rails to keep drivers from crossing over into oncoming traffic. A series of fa...More >>
  • Birmingham Protesters Join National Movement to Protest Federal Immigration Policies

    Birmingham Protesters Join National Movement to Protest Federal Immigration Policies

    Friday, July 25 2014 10:49 AM EDT2014-07-25 14:49:18 GMT
    Birmingham was one of 400 cities to have participated in what the group claims is the largest anti-amnesty nation-wide protest in history. The group calls themselves "Make Them Listen." They took to the streets expressing frustration with the federal government's stance on immigration. Using Facebook to get the word out, they staged a national day of protesting against immigration reform, amnesty and border surge. Car horns blared and beeped in response to the "no amnesty" and "no illegal i...More >>
    Birmingham was one of 400 cities to have participated in what the group claims is the largest anti-amnesty nation-wide protest in history. The group calls themselves "Make Them Listen." They took to the streets expressing frustration with the federal government's stance on immigration. Using Facebook to get the word out, they staged a national day of protesting against immigration reform, amnesty and border surge. Car horns blared and beeped in response to the "no amnesty" and "no illegal i...More >>
  • Single Mother's Empowerment Conference Honors and Inspires

    Single Mother's Empowerment Conference Honors and Inspires

    Friday, July 25 2014 10:48 AM EDT2014-07-25 14:48:43 GMT
    Women were informed, and inspired and networked with one-another at today's Single Mother's Empowerment Conference. ABC 33-40's Linda Mays, the conference Executive Director, kicked off the event. Then speakers and panelists moved into break-out sessions. ABC 33-40 anchor and reporter Brenda Ladun was a guest panelist, along with Ruby Felton, the Community-based Program Manager at the Exchange Club Child Abuse Prevention Center, Melva Tate, owner of public relations firm Tate Associates, LL...More >>
    Women were informed, and inspired and networked with one-another at today's Single Mother's Empowerment Conference. ABC 33-40's Linda Mays, the conference Executive Director, kicked off the event. Then speakers and panelists moved into break-out sessions. ABC 33-40 anchor and reporter Brenda Ladun was a guest panelist, along with Ruby Felton, the Community-based Program Manager at the Exchange Club Child Abuse Prevention Center, Melva Tate, owner of public relations firm Tate Associates, LL...More >>
  • Blount County Shooting Victim Identified

    Blount County Shooting Victim Identified

    Friday, July 25 2014 10:47 AM EDT2014-07-25 14:47:32 GMT
    The Blount County Sheriff's office has identified the 34-year old man who was shot and killed in the 1600 block of Tawbush Road yesterday. Deputies say Ayatollah Khomeini Muhammad's driver's license listed a Center Point, Alabama address. Investigators say Muhammad did not reside at the Tawbush Road home, where he was removed by sheriffs deputies Wednesday morning. "What happened yesterday was he showed up at the house at 1 o'clock. Deputies were called over there. There were no problems, no...More >>
    The Blount County Sheriff's office has identified the 34-year old man who was shot and killed in the 1600 block of Tawbush Road yesterday. Deputies say Ayatollah Khomeini Muhammad's driver's license listed a Center Point, Alabama address. Investigators say Muhammad did not reside at the Tawbush Road home, where he was removed by sheriffs deputies Wednesday morning. "What happened yesterday was he showed up at the house at 1 o'clock. Deputies were called over there. There were no problems, no...More >>
  • Samford "shoes" a nation

    Samford "shoes" a nation

    Friday, July 25 2014 8:23 AM EDT2014-07-25 12:23:40 GMT
    Samford is now the first university to "Shoe a Nation." More >>
    Samford is now the first university to "Shoe a Nation." More >>