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NTSB: No evidence of fire before truck, bus crash

By Evan Schreiber, eschreiber@bontencalifornia.com
KRCR Staff
Published On: Apr 13 2014 04:25:30 PM CDT
Updated On: Apr 13 2014 07:14:04 PM CDT
RED BLUFF, Calif. -

The National Transportation Safety Board revealed new information Sunday, clearing up questions about their investigation and the circumstances of Thursday’s mass casualty crash in Orland.

At their final news conference in Red Bluff, NTSB board member Mark Rosekind said due to previous reports and witness statements, they examined the possibility that the FedEx tractor-trailer was on fire prior to the collision, but those statements lack proof.

"Our fire group has examined the accident scene and vehicles,” Rosekind said. “There is no evidence of pre-impact fire located at the accident scene, on the median, or on the highway."

Rosekind also unveiled more details about the fiery crash Thursday on Interstate 5 in Orland that killed 10 people and injured dozens of others, and the efforts to escape it.

Investigators revealed the door in the center of the bus was for handicapped passengers, and was therefore locked and not equipped as an emergency exit.

All windows except for one by the lavatory were equipped as emergency exits.

“That's important just because sometimes in motor coaches it might be every other window, for example. So we know all the windows were available,” Rosekind said.

Whether the victims were properly instructed on their use and whether they were all functioning has yet to be determined.

“We have to see what the actual procedures were to get out, and how they were labeled. So that's part of what we'll be looking at,” Rosekind said. “So we want to know what's there now, procedures that are used, so we can understand that. Part of it is to know what the procedure is to get the window open. Because one of the concerns of course was did that work or not."

Multiple victims reported having to kick or punch the windows out to escape the engulfed vehicle.

Harley Hoyt, 18, was sitting on the charter bus' driver's side next to an emergency exit and escaped immediately.

"All I did was open that thing and push it," Hoyt said. "I had to kick it open and straddle it."

A Nissan Altima was the third vehicle involved in the crash. NTSB officials said the driver of that car was able to capture video shortly after the collision. They are working to obtain that and California Highway Patrol dash cam video.

Regarding this particular stretch of the highway, Rosekind explained the NTSB is looking into whether a solid median divider is necessary. At Sunday’s news conference he said it is a possibility, but that there have been more than 100 accidents in this stretch of highway since its last renovation, and none have involved a vehicle crossing into oncoming traffic. Median dividers are optional if the median is more than 50 feet across. At the accident site, it is 58 feet, Rosekind said.

NTSB officials are in the process of collecting any evidence of distracted driving before they make a determination on those facts. They said they will be gathering information on the FedEx truck driver’s  72-hours before the fatal crash, collecting items like amount of rest, cell phone use, number of stops, and other details.

The organization will remain in the Northstate for the next five to ten days.

In a briefing Saturday, Rosekind described evidence which shows no effort to brake along the path the FedEx tractor-trailer traveled before crashing head-on into the charter bus carrying high school students and chaperones to Humboldt State University.

"There are no tire marks," Rosekind said. "So this is just the truck tractor, it's leaving the southbound lane at 10 degrees, across the median into the northbound lanes. There are no tire marks anywhere."

The deceased driver of the FedEx tractor-trailer has been identified by the Sacramento Bee as 32-year-old Tim Evans. Rosekind said he was traveling from Weeds to Sacramento with both a partial and full load of materials. The NTSB is working to determine if the partial load had hazardous materials, causing any sort of additional eruption of flames.

Evidence is also starting to reveal how the bus driver, Tala Salanoa, attempted to avoid the crash. The NTSB found 145 feet of brake marks caused by the bus before impact. Those marks indicated the bus had made a turn to the right, away from the oncoming tractor trailer. Salanoa was among those killed in the crash.

Also killed were five students out of Southern California: Marisa Serrato, Adrian Castro, Denise Gomez, Ismael Jimenez and Jennifer Bonilla. They were on their way to tour Humboldt State and meet faculty. All were low-income students who had been accepted to the university.

Three chaperones on the bus were also killed. They are Michael Myvett, his fiancee Mattison Haywood, and HSU counselor Arthur Arzola.

Among the information revealed Saturday by the NTSB is that the tour bus was basically brand new - a 2014 Setra equipped with lap and shoulder belts.

Some of the victims who died were ejected from the bus.