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FedEx semi didn't brake before California crash

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.

-----

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

Join the discussion

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ddunlap555 April 13 2014 at 12:56 AM

And how can you not feel sorry for their deaths

Flag Reply +2 rate up
Bam April 13 2014 at 2:32 AM

Actually, if his rig was om fire it most lijely was something connected to the braking system of the trailer or the tail trailer. Unless we find out the driver fell asleep it osunds like mechanical failure may have caused the accident...still relly unfair event...incredibly sad.

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1 reply
RXTOXICWASTE Bam April 13 2014 at 2:47 AM

Thy always blame the truck driver, ask ask any attorney.

Flag Reply +2 rate up
sampson7770 April 13 2014 at 2:46 AM

i would guess it was carbon monoxide poisoning of the driver from a diesel fuel line,( the fumes)fuel squirting out hitting the exhaust pipe from the air driving down the highway the hole could be any where, the air or wind driving down highway scatters it everywhere ,the exhaust runs underneath the cab of the truck and fuel line are made from synflex like plastic line to the fuel tank,the fuel line might got pinched under the cab ,the cab also has air ride bags and drops down when no air presure,he probably passed out from the fumes , this almost happened to me driving truck so I'm no stranger to this happening the fumes get so strong you get very drowsy and don't realize it, your falling a sleep, the fuel line might got a hole from being pinched in the fuel line just enough to ignite after miles of driving splashing on the exhaust pipe ,if it was a big hole or disconnected fuel line the truck would shut down for no fuel ,the brakes would automatically lock up if loss of air pressure or air line came off ,if the brakes caught fire the truck still would have stopped hitting the brakes, and it would probably only been one set of brakes from oil being all over the brakes shoes so i would cancel that out from happening! bottom line driver passed out,I would check the garage last serviced for repairs!

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1 reply
elembee.lori sampson7770 April 13 2014 at 2:54 AM

Wow, that was hard to follow but I'm sure a very valid possibility.

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1 reply
sampson7770 elembee.lori April 13 2014 at 3:25 AM

the fuel line get a little pin hole and fuel pressure squirts it out like a piss stream like a baby pissing it sound crazy but it really happens!

Flag +2 rate up
spsportsmom4 April 12 2014 at 7:34 PM

So many different opinions on what could have happened in which I will not add to. My sympathies and prayers go out to all the families and friends of those who lost their lives and were injured.

Flag Reply +13 rate up
thescottherald April 12 2014 at 9:56 PM

Life is so fragile. My heart goes out to all those suffering from this horrible accident, most especially that parents.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
tlnitstr8 April 13 2014 at 1:19 AM

***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.***

No, that merely means the brakes didn't work--it does not mean the driver didn't try to stop.

***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.***

How will a blood test tell you where a fire started?

Flag Reply +8 rate up
2 replies
Claggitt tlnitstr8 April 13 2014 at 2:37 AM

What a blood test can tell, aside from whether there were any drugs in the driver's system, is whether the driver inhaled smoke from the fire. It might show whether he had a heart attack, and if he was dead or alive when the crash occurred.

Flag Reply +3 rate up
abourge458 tlnitstr8 April 13 2014 at 2:44 AM

The blood test's stated objective was to see if smoke was in his lungs. That's not for where the fire came from as much as WHEN. BUT.... I don't see where that would be conclusive anyway, as he could have been alive for awhile and inhaled smoke AFTER the collision.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
Norma April 12 2014 at 7:19 PM

I believe there was a similar accident involving a FedEx truck in San Antonio.
Witnesses had said it was on fire before it fell several hundred feet off of the highway. I may be wrong but if I am not... maybe something is wrong the the trucks?????

Flag Reply +10 rate up
2 replies
James M. Adams Norma April 12 2014 at 7:29 PM

You are wrong.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
1 reply
rozh2 James M. Adams April 12 2014 at 7:45 PM

Then what company was the manufacturer of that tractor?

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rozh2 Norma April 12 2014 at 7:52 PM

What has my attention is that many of the Fed Ex trucks around here are built by Volvo. I have a Volvo sedan, and have smelled gasoline many times, yet when they check my car, they can't find a problem. Since the Volvo company was sold by Ford to some Chinese company, the quality of the product is different, not particularly poor, but different form what it had been.

Flag Reply +2 rate up
Alen Kay April 13 2014 at 3:28 AM

One explanation is that the driver might have had a heart attack? He could have been on the phone? But not to try and brake opens all sorts of questions we should not be condemning anyone -yet-let the investigators do their job and then we might hope th find out what really happened. The main thing of all this is that TEN people lost their lives and that is the only point so far. R.I.P.

Flag Reply +8 rate up
jbloveskb April 13 2014 at 4:13 AM

i would say by witness accounts that being wrapped around by the fire in the cab that he was overcome by smoke hence the reason no braking

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2 replies
dodalewis jbloveskb April 13 2014 at 4:48 AM

also if it is wrapped around with fire UNDER the cab then the bottom is on fire and CAN effect the brakes and braking system! Which can prevent then cab from stopping and the connections to the back trailers were probably affected also!

Flag Reply +1 rate up
1 reply
crimepup dodalewis April 13 2014 at 5:15 AM

I would be willing to bet you are right. It can easily melt some air lines and depending on which ones it could have caused him to loose his service brakes.

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Richard jbloveskb April 13 2014 at 5:21 AM

Or the brakes were on fire and disabled.

Flag Reply 0 rate up
asnarkrangout April 12 2014 at 7:15 PM

That's right you morons posting here.... it's the government's fault. Accidents should never happen anywhere? Are you insane?

Flag Reply +10 rate up
1 reply
timeisinhishands asnarkrangout April 12 2014 at 7:31 PM

I dont need to be there.

All it takes is a little bit of knowledge and COMMON SENSE.

Please dont tell me you are short of COMMON SENSE otherwise maybe i better not travel on the road when people like you are driving.
Or perhaps you can go surrender your driver license so the roads will be alot more safer for the rest of us out there driving

Flag Reply 0 rate up
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