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Student on bus that crashed psychologically 'fragile,' father says

CHICO -- About half an hour after the bus his son was riding in exploded into flames, Mt. Washington resident Gaylord Hill got a call about the crash from a bystander.

Hill’s son Miles had been put on oxygen, the bystander said, and the 18-year-old was going to be airlifted to a hospital.

And that was the last piece of news Hill heard for hours.

"I couldn't panic because I had to get the information. After I got off the phone ... sure, I panicked. I broke down," he said. "I called my wife and let her know and then she broke down. And then we were sitting here in the house, not knowing anything."

Miles Hill, a senior at Renaissance Arts Academy in Los Angeles, is one of scores of students injured when a bus carrying students and chaperons en route to Humboldt State University was struck head on by a FedEx truck that had crossed a grassy median on Interstate 5 near Orland, north of Sacramento.

Both the bus and the truck burst into flames, sending panicked passengers scrambling to get off the bus -- some of them, as Miles Hill did, smashing out windows to crawl out.

Five students died in the accident, along with three chaperons and the drivers of the bus and the truck. Miles Hill is hospitalized in serious condition at Enloe Medical Center in Chico, his father said, with burns, lacerations and an ankle injury.

Gaylord Hill said it was initially difficult for him to get information because his son attends a charter school and wasn’t in L.A. Unified's records.

"He's not a person that asks for help,” Hill said of his son. “But he told me, 'I want you guys up here. I need you guys up here.' So psychologically, he's really fragile."

Gaylord Hill flew to Sacramento on Friday morning, then drove to Chico.

The 18-year-old told his father that he was seated directly behind the driver when the crash occurred. He said the bus driver saw the truck coming and may have had room to turn, but did not.

But in an interview, Gaylord Hill stressed that his son’s recollections may still be fuzzy, and had the driver turned it might have done more harm than good.

Miles Hill told his father that “he kicked his way out” of the bus -- possibly through a window or a door.

His son was still on morphine Friday, but “pretty lucid,” Gaylord Hill said.

“The memory of it -- I was trying to stop him from reliving it. But he couldn't sleep last night. He woke up in a cold sweat," he said, "and saw flames."

California Highway Patrol Lt. Scott Fredrick said CHP investigators were being assisted by a team from the National Transportation Safety Board, which arrived at the remote Northern California scene Friday morning. Investigators would use “sophisticated surveying and mapping equipment,” along with 3-D diagramming, to reconstruct the events leading up to the crash, he said.

Fredrick said investigators would also consider roadway and weather conditions. But he and others cautioned that it could take up to six months for the CHP to complete its report.

“The investigation itself … is a long, tedious process,” said the CHP's Ruben Leal. “We may not have some answers for months.”

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melanie.mason@latimes.com

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
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