RED BLUFF, Calif. -- Preliminary information indicates a FedEx truck did not brake as it crossed a Northern California median and crashed head-on into a tour bus carrying dozens of high school students, federal investigators said Saturday.
There were no signs the FedEx truck tried to brake as it left the southbound lanes of Interstate 5 near Orland and crossed a 58-foot median onto the northbound lanes, the National Transportation Safety Board's Mark Rosekind said at a news briefing. But more than 145 feet of tire marks indicated the bus driver tried to stop and swerved to the right.
“That driver was clearly reacting to a situation with braking and a driving maneuver,” Rosekind said.
Rosekind cautioned that it remained too early to tell what prompted the FedEx driver to turn onto the median, but he said investigators have begun an intense examination of both vehicles in hopes of gaining more insight.
Blood samples have also been obtained from both drivers -- who were killed -- to test for alcohol, drugs or medication, he said.
Ten people -- including five teenagers -- were killed Thursday night after the FedEx truck slammed into the bus, both bursting into flames. The bus was ferrying dozens of L.A.-area high schools students and counselors to Humboldt State University for a two-day visit.
More than 30 people were taken to area hospitals with injuries. Rosekind said some of the victims killed in the crash were thrown from the bus.
“That’s really important for us to look at,” he said. “We’re going to look at whether seat belts might have kept them in place and whether that would have made a difference.”
Rosekind also confirmed that a Nissan Altima that was traveling in the same direction as the bus was also struck by the FedEx truck on its drivers side. The Altima's driver reported seeing flames from beneath the FedEx truck’s cab before the crash, but Rosekind called it a “primary report,” saying investigators were still looking into the information.
A fire specialist had already begun examining the bus in an attempt to determine the fire’s origin, Rosekind said. He also implored any witnesses who have not spoken to investigators to contact the NTSB.
One witness told The Times on Saturday that he did not see any fire from the FedEx truck before the crash. Ryan Householder said he was mowing his lawn, which faces the southbound lanes of the highway, when he heard screeching tires.
"I never thought I'd see that in real life," he said. "That's movies, Hollywood."
Householder, 31, said the FedEx truck, hauling two trailers, was in the slower of two southbound lanes behind a red van, he said. The truck tried to merge into the faster lane, he said, but there were two cars there.
At that point, the truck driver seemed to lose control of his vehicle, Householder said. The truck shot across the grassy median, shearing the tops off bushes that separate the northbound and southbound lanes.
The truck began straightening out, Householder said, but by that time it was already on the northbound lane and had collided with the bus.
"When they collided, it was boom!" he said. Both vehicles erupted into fire.
Rosekind said a black box-style electronic device was recovered from the bus and will be analyzed. The truck's device was destroyed, but other steps will be taken to analyze the machinery.
For example, the condition of the transmission may show what gear the truck was in and how fast it was traveling. The steering equipment could reveal where the wheels were pointed at the time of the collision.
Examining the vehicles will be difficult, Rosekind said, because of the extensive fire damage.
Rosekind said the bus was a "very new motor coach" -- only about a month old. The FedEx truck was manufactured in 2007, he said.
Officials will also probe why a barrier was not built along the median, which could have prevented the crash. If the 58-foot median was 8 feet narrower, a barrier would have been required, Rosekind said.
Mather reported from Los Angeles, Megerian from Orland.
Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times