An 18-year-old student who died in last week's fiery bus crash in Orland, Calif., spent his last moments helping other passengers to safety, officials at his Inglewood charter high school said Monday.
Ismael Jimenez, a student at Animo Inglewood Charter High School, "busted open a window at the front of the bus as it was filling with smoke and people were getting burned," charter school Chief Executive Marco Petruzzi said in a statement. "He started lifting kids out in an effort to save them."
Petruzzi said one of the crash survivors recounted Jimenez's heroics during the chaos and said he "was indeed a hero."
Jimenez, who would have been the first in his family to go to college, was killed Thursday when a FedEx truck veered across an Interstate 5 median and into oncoming traffic, hitting the charter bus carrying him and 47 others to Humboldt State University.
He was one of five Southern California high school students who were killed, as were three adult chaperons and the drivers of the two vehicles. The students were part of a university program that provides higher education opportunities to low-income and first-generation college students.
One witness who lives near the crash site said most of the bus passengers emerged bruised, bloodied and unaware they had been injured, apparently because of shock.
"They were just like, 'What happened?'" said Ryan Householder, 31, whose home faces the southbound lanes of the interstate in Orland. "Their adrenaline was pumping so bad, none of them knew they were injured, even those with blood all over their clothes."
Glenn County coroner officials said they were relying on dental records and DNA to identify the dead because of the extent of the damage to their bodies. Victims' families have confirmed some of the names of the dead.
Officials are still trying to determine how the crash occurred. The California Highway Patrol said it was seeking witnesses as well as photos and videos.
Los Angeles City Councilman Joe Buscaino announced that his office had partnered with Sharefest to set up a fund for the victims' families to offset funeral costs and other financial hardships. Donations may be made online at http://www.sharefestinc.org/buscrashfund. Checks can be made payable to Sharefest, with "Humboldt bus crash victims assistance fund" in the memo line, and should be sent to Sharefest Community Development, 3480 Torrance Blvd. No. 110, Torrance, CA 90503.
Times staff writers Hailey Branson-Potts and Melanie Mason contributed to this report.