ORLAND, Calif. -- Jonathan Gutierrez, 17, said he was eager to sit at the front of the charter bus that was going to shuttle him and other high school students from Los Angeles to Humboldt County on Thursday, but another student convinced him to sit in the back row.
His change of heart may have saved his life. Gutierrez, a student at Banning High School, was one of the survivors of the deadly crash in Orland that claimed at least 10 lives.
The 12-hour bus ride was for Los Angeles-area students accepted to Humboldt State University. Gutierrez said the school was his first choice; he wants to study marine biology.
During the ride, Gutierrez said, students watched movies such as “Captain Phillips” and “Wolverine.” They made two stops, one in Bakersfield and another in Sacramento. As the bus continued north on Route 5, Gutierrez said, he turned in his seat as he tried to fall asleep.
“I heard screaming,” he said. “That’s when I felt the impact of the truck.”
Gutierrez said he was hurtled forward, opening a gash over his right eyebrow when he hit the plastic tray in the back of the seat in front of him.
He said he could see fire toward the front of the bus where some chaperons and students were sitting. The place where he almost sat had suffered the worst damage.
“The people in the front, you couldn’t do anything about them,” Gutierrez said.
It was hard to breathe from the smoke, he said, and “that’s when people started panicking.”
Some students escaped through an emergency exit, but others smashed windows. He said he climbed out a window and fell to the pavement.
Wearing only his socks -- he had taken off his shoes while trying to fall asleep -- he ran across the highway with other students.
“They were just yelling, ‘Oh my God, what just happened?’” Gutierrez said. “They were crying.”
He was brought to the Veterans Memorial Hall in Orland with other survivors, then transported to Enloe Medical Center in Chico. A total of 11 passengers were brought to the hospital.
Meanwhile, his father Javier was at work in Torrance when he heard about the accident. “I just took off,” he said.
Gutierrez’s father said he boarded a flight to Sacramento, where he was met by his cousin, who drove up from Stockton. Together they headed to Chico to meet Gutierrez at the hospital, where he was being discharged after receiving stitches around his eyebrow.
Instead of spending the weekend at Humboldt, Gutierrez will be heading back to Torrance.
“I just want to go home,” he said.