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Deadly bus crash: Two victims were recently engaged

Michael Myvett and Mattison Haywood were college sweethearts.

Michael saved up for two years, flew her to France and outside the Louvre on a cold Christmas Day last year, he got down on one knee and proposed.

Mattison said yes.

Myvett's grandmother, Debra Loyd, told their love story with a mix of awe and sorrow Friday. Hours before, she had gotten a call from officials notifying her that Myvett and Haywood were among 10 people killed Thursday evening when their tour bus was struck by a FedEx truck on Interstate 5 in the Sacramento Valley. The couple were serving as adult chaperons for a student tour of their alma mater, Humboldt State University.

"He was a fantastic human being," said Loyd, who raised Myvett in South Los Angeles. "And the love those two had for each other is one you haven't seen in generations. They were like the Kennedys, like the Obamas."

The couple shared a home near Santa Monica, she said.

PHOTOS: Deadly bus crash

On Saturday, officials were still trying to piece together the cause of the fiery crash. The tour bus was carrying 48 people, mostly students from Southern California.

A little after 5:30 on Thursday evening, a FedEx tractor-trailer veered across a wide median and struck the bus head-on. The impact shook nearby homes and sent a plume of black, acrid smoke billowing above the Sacramento Valley.

Authorities said that 10 people were killed, including the drivers of both the truck and the bus, three adult chaperons aboard the bus and five students.

The investigation into the crash took a new twist late Friday after two witnesses said the FedEx truck was on fire before it hit the tour bus.

The witnesses said flames were visible from the big rig as it crossed the grassy median on Interstate 5 and hit their car, then the bus.

Bonnie and Joe Duran told TV reporters in Northern California that their Nissan Altima was sideswiped by the truck before it collided head-on with the bus.

“It was on fire already,” Bonnie Duran said.

Investigators have not publicly responded the Durans' account.

Humboldt State President Rollin Richmond said this week that the university had used Silverado Stages tour bus company in the past and never had any problems. The university has staff members who carefully vet these kind of contractors, "especially in cases where we're dealing with young people," he said.

"As best we can tell, the bus drivers here were doing exactly what they should have and there was no way they could have escaped this," he said.

Experts cautioned that the probe of the crash will be broad and could take months.

"This is a very significant and unfortunate tragedy," said Jim Hall, a transportation safety consultant and former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board. "The NTSB is going to have its hands full on this one."

Although the cause of the accident has yet to be determined, Hall and other safety advocates said it could focus new attention on the NTSB's efforts to improve bus safety and the behind-the-scenes battle over safety standards for motor coaches and other commercial vehicles.

Meanwhile, an additional 30 people, mostly students, were taken to seven area hospitals for a variety of injuries -- burns, fractures, smoke inhalation.

Interactive: The dead and unaccounted for

Since Thursday, nine of 11 bus crash victims being treated at Enloe Medical Center in Chico have been released, a hospital spokesperson said Saturday. The two who remain are in fair condition.

The five bus crash victims transported to Mercy Medical Center in Redding were treated and released before midnight Thursday, according to Heather Nichols, a hospital spokeswoman. All were students, she said.

A third chaperon who was killed, Arthur Arzola, 26, had worked since his high school days in Chino to help underprivileged kids go to college. The death of Arzola, a Humboldt State Southern California admissions counselor, was confirmed by his stepmother.

"He wanted to make it an even playing field. He wanted them to have the same opportunities," said the stepmother, Stephanie Arzola. "He always just wanted to just help students be passionate about school and have them move on to higher education, make something of themselves, and have a career."

The students on the bus were headed to Humboldt State through a 20-year-old program called Preview Plus that seeks to enroll low-income students, many of whom would be the first in their families to attend college.

Each spring, the campus in remote, foresty Arcata welcomes more than 100 high school seniors, mainly from the Los Angeles, Fresno and San Francisco Bay areas, for a weekend.

Three busloads of roughly 120 students were headed to the campus Thursday. Two left from Union Station in downtown Los Angeles, including the one that crashed and another that was about two hours ahead. The bus that crashed had been delayed when it got in a separate accident, which one student described as a "fender bender," not long after beginning the trip. A third bus left Thursday from Fresno.

The students had been accepted to Humboldt State and were weighing school choices and financial aid offers. During the program, the teens are housed in dorms, given tours of the school and its clubs and meet with professors and older students. They were scheduled to visit the farmers market in downtown Arcata and join in a scavenger hunt.

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chris.megerian@latimes.com

esmeralda.bermudez@latimes.com

paige.stjohn@latimes.com

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
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