ORLAND, Calif. -- Investigators probing the collision of a FedEx freight truck and a charter bus that killed 10 were dealing with disparate clues, including reports that the truck was on fire before the crash as well as evidence that its driver appeared not to brake.
A woman who said the truck sideswiped her car moments before Thursday evening’s fatal accident said she saw flames coming from beneath the twin-trailer vehicle as it veered across a grassy median toward disaster.
A man who lives next to Interstate 5, however, said he saw no flames from the truck before the crash as he watched it swerve out of control after it made an abortive attempt to move into freeway’s fast lane.
Both witnesses said the truck veered sharply from southbound lanes, across the median and into a 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 watched from his home, where he had been mowing his lawn. He said he was haunted by the screams of those who couldn’t escape the burning bus.
A National Transportation Safety Board member said Saturday evening that the truck left no skid marks on either 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, said the NTSB’s Mark Rosekind.
“That driver was clearly reacting to a situation with braking and a driving maneuver,” he said.
Rosekind cautioned that it remained too early to tell 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.
The regulator confirmed that some of the victims were thrown from the bus. “We’re going to look at whether seat belts might have kept them in place and whether that would have made a difference,” Rosekind 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.
Rosekind said the bus was a “very new motor coach” — only about a month old. The FedEx truck was manufactured in 2007, he said.
The new details about the moments before the accident came as three more students, previously listed as missing, were confirmed dead. The toll includes five students, three adult chaperons and the still-unidentified drivers. Final, formal identification of remains could take several weeks.
“We have no one that’s missing. All the names are accounted for. We just don’t know which body goes with which name,” said Larry Jones, sheriff and coroner for Glenn County, north of Sacramento. “And we don’t know at this point what body to release to what family.”
Bonnie and Joe Duran, who live near Tacoma, Wash., had just passed the charter bus and were heading north, according to the NTSB official, when the FedEx truck suddenly burst across the median.
“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 tried to veer her rented four-door Nissan Altima to the right, but 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. Both burst into flames.
Neither of the Durans was seriously injured.