FedEx semi didn't brake before California crash

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FedEx semi didn't brake before California crash
ORLAND, CA - APRIL 11: California Highway Patrol officer Joe Stokes clears away crime scene tape at the scene of a deadly crash on April 11, 2014 in Orland, California. Ten people were killed and dozens injured, including four still in critical condition, after a FedEx truck collided with a bus of high school students on Interstate 5 yesterday. The students were on their way to visit Humboldt State University in Northern California. (Photo by Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images)
A California Highway Patrol Officer walks past the remains of a tour bus that was struck by a FedEx truck on Interstate 5 Thursday in Orland, Calif., Friday, April 11, 2014. At least ten people were killed and dozens injured in the fiery crash between the truck and a bus carrying high school students on a visit to a Northern California College. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
A California Highway Patrol officer walks past the charred remains of a tour bus at a CalTrans maintenance station in Willows, Calif., Friday, April 11, 2014. At least ten people were killed and dozens injured in the fiery crash on Thursday, April 10, between a FedEx truck and a bus carrying high school students on a visit to a Northern California college. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
A California Highway Patrol Officer looks over the wreckage, Friday, April 11, 2014, where a tour bus and a FedEX truck crashed on Interstate 5 Thursday in Orland, Calif. At least ten people were killed and dozens injured in the fiery crash between the truck and a bus carrying high school students on a visit to a Northern California College.(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
Massive flames are seen devouring both vehicles just after the crash, and clouds of smoke billowed into the sky Thursday April 10, 2014 until firefighters had quenched the fire, leaving behind scorched black hulks of metal. The FedEx tractor-trailer crossed a grassy freeway median in Northern California and slammed into the bus carrying high school students on a visit to a college. At least nine were killed in the fiery crash, authorities said. (AP Photo/Jeremy Lockett)
This undated photo provided by the California Department of Motor Vehicles shows Arthur Arzola. The 26-year-old Humboldt State University admissions counselor, from Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., who was accompanying students on a visit to the campus, was identified by the Sacramento County coroner and the university as one of those who died in the fiery collision of a tour bus and FedEx truck on Interstate 5 near Orland, Calif. on Thursday, April 10, 2014. (AP Photo/California Department of Motor Vehicles)
The burned interior of a tour bus that was struck by a FedEx truck on Interstate 5 Thursday is shown at a CalTrans maintenance station in Willows, Calif., Friday, April 11, 2014. At least ten people were killed and dozens injured in the fiery crash between the truck and a bus carrying high school students on a visit to a Northern California college. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
A passenger car involved in a multi-vehicle accident that left at least ten people dead and dozens injured, sits on tow truck on Interstate 5, Friday, April 11, 2014 in Orland, Calf. A FedEx truck traveling on southbound Interstate 5, Thursday, veered across a grassy highway median and slammed into the bus that was carrying 40 high school students on a visit to a Northern California College. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
As an excavator, right, pushes, a tow truck on the left pulls the burned out remains of a tour bus back onto the pavement so it can be towed away from the scene of a multi-vehicle accident, Friday, April 11, 2014 in Orland, Calif. At least ten people were killed and dozens injured in the fiery crash,Thursday, between a FedEx truck and a bus carrying high school students on a visit to a Northern California College.(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
Officials and California Highway Patrol Officers look over the remains of a tour bus that was struck by a FedEx truck on Interstate 5 Thursday in Orland, Calif., Friday, April 11, 2014. At least ten people were killed and dozens injured in the fiery crash between the truck and a bus carrying high school students on a visit to a Northern California College. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
Sergio Parra, 16, a 10th grader at Orland High School, cleans the glass on the school's sign, Friday, April 11, 2014, after placing a memorial remembering the victims of a fiery crash between a tour bus and a FedEx truck in Orland, Calif. Ten people were killed and dozens injured in the fiery crash that happened Thursday, between the truck and a bus carrying high school students on a visit to a Northern California college. Orland High is across the street from where a Red Cross shelter was setup to handle some of survivors of the accident. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
California Highway Patrol Lt. Commander Bruce Carpenter, right, speaks at a news conference in Willows, Calif., Friday, April 11, 2014. At least ten people were killed and dozens injured in a fiery crash on Interstate 5 on Thursday, April 10, between a FedEx truck and a bus carrying high school students on a visit to a Northern California college. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
A California Highway Patrol Officer shines his light on a yellow blanket covering one of the victims of a fatal crash between a tour bus and a FedEx truck on Interstate 5 Thursday, April 10, 2014,in Orland, Calif. Nine people were killed and dozens injured in the fiery crash between the truck and a bus carrying high school students on a visit to a Northern California College.(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
A Nissan sedan involved in the accident of a FedEx tractor trailer and bus that collided on Interstate 5 Thursday is prepared for removal on Friday, April 11, 2014, in an effort to reopen the northbound lanes of the freeway following the crash that killed 10 people. Two passengers in the car suffered minor to moderate injuries and where sent to an area hospital according to Lt. Bruce Carpenter with the CHP. (Hector Amezcua/Sacramento Bee/MCT via Getty Images)
The remnants from a truck-bus collision are seen early Friday, April 11, 2014, in Orland, Calif. Officials with the Glenn County Coroner's office examine the wreckage of a tour bus carrying high school students that crashed with a FedEx tractor trailor on Interstate 5 in Orland, Calif. on April 10. (Hector Amezcua/Sacramento Bee/MCT via Getty Images)
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BY FENIT NIRAPPIL AND JOAN LOWY

ORLAND, Calif. (AP) -- Federal safety investigators say the driver of a Fedex tractor-trailer that struck a bus carrying high school students didn't appear to brake before a fiery collision that left 10 dead.

National Transportation Safety Board member Mark Rosekind said Saturday that the truck left no tire marks as it careened across a median and slammed into the bus taking the students to a college tour in Northern California.

Investigators also interviewed a witness who said the truck was already on fire before it crossed the median.

The truck and bus exploded into towering flames after Thursday's crash, making it difficult for investigators to determine whether a fire started in the truck. But Rosekind says investigators plan to look at a blood test and other physical evidence to make that determination.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

A couple said a FedEx tractor-trailer was already on fire when it careened across a median, sideswiped their car and slammed into a bus carrying high school students, adding a new twist to the investigation of a crash that killed 10 people.

Initial reports by police indicated the truck swerved to avoid a sedan that was traveling in the same direction in this town about 100 miles north of Sacramento, then went across the median. There was no mention of the truck being on fire.

But Joe and Bonnie Duran, the Seattle-area couple who were in the car, said, like the bus, they were northbound on Interstate 5 on Thursday afternoon. Bonnie Duran, who was driving, told KNBC-TV in Los Angeles that flames were coming from the lower rear of the truck cab.

Witnesses: FedEx Truck Was On Fire Before Head-On Crash

"I just looked to the left, and there it was coming through right at me at an angle. I can tell I wasn't going to outrun him, so I just kind of turned to the right and he hit me," she said. "It was in flames as it came through the median. ... It wasn't like the whole thing was engulfed. It was coming up wrapping around him."

The couple was not seriously injured. KNBC-TV reported that the Durans would be formally interviewed Saturday by the California Highway Patrol before flying home.

Officer Lacey Heitman, a spokeswoman for California Highway Patrol, said she could not confirm if the truck was on fire before the collision until all evidence was gathered. National Transportation Safety Board spokesman Keith Holloway said the agency is investigating the condition of the truck before the collision, including if it was on fire. FedEx spokeswoman Bonnie Harrison wouldn't comment on the reports the truck was on fire.

When the tractor-trailer collided with the charter bus carrying high school students to a college campus tour in California's redwood county, the vehicles exploded into towering flames and billowing black smoke. Bodies recovered from the bus were charred beyond recognition.

Five students from the Los Angeles area, three chaperones and the truck and bus drivers died in the crash. Dozens were injured, and several remained hospitalized Saturday, including at least one in critical condition.

As part of what's expected to be a lengthy and broad investigation, federal transportation authorities are examining whether fire safety measures they previously recommended for motor coaches could have allowed more of the 48 bus occupants to escape unharmed.

In a briefing at the start of the investigation, the NTSB's Mark Rosekind said his agency will not only look into the cause of the crash, but what regulators can do to stop any similar ones from happening in the future. Fire safety is one of six areas the NTSB plans to investigate, partly because it has been longstanding concern of the agency.

After a 2005 bus fire killed 23 nursing home residents escaping Hurricane Rita in Texas, the NTSB called for safety standards that could make buses less vulnerable to fire, including improved protection of fuel tanks. More recently, the NTSB says buses must have sophisticated suppression systems to control fires, much as high-rise buildings have sprinkler systems.

"Fire suppression holds the greatest potential for saving lives, reducing costs and minimizing damage," according to a recent NTSB list of its safety priorities for all modes of transportation. Existing fire standards dating to the 1970s apply to small fire sources such as lit cigarettes, but they do not apply to large fires that can start outside the bus.

The NTSB, which investigates accidents and their causes, has no authority to require safety changes it recommends.

But a bill passed by Congress in June 2012 directed the Department of Transportation to conduct research and tests on ways to prevent fires or mitigate the effects, among other safety issues. That included evacuating passengers, as well automatic fire suppression, smoke suppression and improved fire extinguishers. Representatives of the bus industry told Congress that manufacturers were increasingly and voluntarily adding such features.

The law suggests the department issue new standards in those areas within three years if the secretary of transportation decides they are "reasonable, practicable and appropriate." Former National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Administrator Joan Claybrook told the Associated Press that the bus industry fought with safety advocates "like cats and dogs" to prevent "hard deadlines" for the new regulations.

So far, the government has not proposed any new standards related to passenger evacuation in event of a fire or other fire-related issues, according to Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, which lobbied Congress for tougher motor-coach safety standards.

"The legislation includes many mandates to the Transportation Department on many aspects of safety, some of them easy, others not so easy," said Jacqueline Gillan, president of the safety advocacy group. "Nonetheless, they all need to be done, and there have been no regulations even on the easy ones."

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which is part of the Transportation Department, recently initiated a two-year contract to develop and evaluate test procedures to assess fire detection, suppression and flammability of exterior materials for motor coaches, the safety advocacy group said. The research project, headed by the Southwest Research Institute, is to focus on engine and wheel-well fires.

A 2009 study commissioned by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration estimated that 160 bus fires occurred each year from such non-collision related causes and 95 percent did not result in injury or death.

The 44 Southern California high school students on the bus in Thursday's crash, many hoping to become the first in their families to attend college, were on a free trip arranged by Humboldt State University.

The victims included a recently engaged couple from Los Angeles and a newlywed from Orange County chaperoning the trip. Among the students was an identical twin from Riverside whose sister was on another bus that arrived safely at Humboldt.

Silverado Stages, the San Luis Obispo, Calif.-based company that owns the charter bus involved in the crash, has a strong safety record, and it has said it is fully cooperating with the investigation. It is unclear what sort of fire-safety equipment the bus in Thursday's crash had, and the company couldn't be reached for comment Saturday.

As part of its investigation, the NTSB said it is trying to determine whether the FedEx driver might have fallen asleep or suffered a health problem and whether there were mechanical issues with the truck. The agency also is evaluating whether there should have been a barrier on the median to help prevent head-on collisions. Barriers are required when medians are less than 50 feet wide; this one was 60.

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Joan Lowy reported from Washington, D.C. Justin Pritchard in Los Angeles contributed to this story.

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