A 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 in a statement.
Ismael Jimenez, 18, would have been the first in his family to go to college. He was killed Thursday when a FedEx truck steered across a median and into a charter bus carrying him and 47 others to Humboldt State University for spring introductions.
Jimenez and another victim, Denise Gomez, 18, were students at Animo Inglewood Charter High School. In a statement, charter school chief executive Marco Petruzzi said one of the crash’s survivors recounted Jimenez’s heroics during the chaos.
“Ismael busted open a window at the front of the bus as it was filling with smoke and people were getting burned. He started lifting kids out in an effort to save them,” Petruzzi said. “Ismael will be remembered as someone who forever affected the lives of young people he barely knew. He was indeed a hero.”
Jimenez was an artist and among dozens of low-income and aspiring first-generation college students visiting Humboldt as part of the university’s spring introduction.
Gomez was a member of the girl’s varsity soccer team, president of the Earth Club and editor of the school yearbook.
On Monday, officials were still trying to piece together witness accounts of how the crash occurred.
Despite some witness accounts, Mark Rosekind, a member of the National Transportation Safety Board, said investigators found no physical evidence that the FedEx truck was on fire before the collision.
Witnesses said the truck veered sharply from southbound lanes, crossed the median and then ran into the Silverado Stages charter bus, which carried 48 people, including 44 Southern California high school students.
“When they collided, it was boom!” said Ryan Householder, 31, who saw the crash as he was mowing his lawn. He said he was haunted by the screams of those who couldn’t escape the burning bus.
The NTSB’s Rosekind said Saturday evening that the truck left no skid marks on the roadway or the median. In contrast, more than 145 feet of tire marks indicated that the bus driver tried to stop and swerve to the right, he said.
“That driver was clearly reacting to a situation with braking and a driving maneuver,” he said.
Rosekind cautioned that it’s too early in the investigation to determine what prompted the FedEx driver to leave the southbound lanes. The investigator said blood samples had been obtained from the drivers, both of whom died in the crash. The samples will be used to test for alcohol, drugs or medication, he said.
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, he said.
He said the bus was a “very new motor coach” -- only about a month old. The FedEx truck was manufactured in 2007, he said.
Bonnie and Joe Duran, who live near Tacoma, Wash., had just passed the charter bus and were heading north when the FedEx truck suddenly burst across the median, according to the NTSB official.
“It was on fire already,” Bonnie Duran, who was driving, said of the truck. She told NBC4-TV that the flames appeared to be coming from the lower rear of the truck cab.
She told the TV station that she tried to veer her rented four-door Nissan Altima to the right, but that it was too late. The FedEx truck sideswiped her, ripping off the rear passenger door. A moment later, the truck slammed into the charter bus, she said.
Neither of the Durans was seriously injured in the incident.