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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.

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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.

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presburg April 12 2014 at 11:12 PM

maybe the driver of fedex was death already....

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2 replies
Rosemary presburg April 12 2014 at 11:14 PM

Yeah, wondering if he didn't have a heart attack or seizure.....:(

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afallica presburg April 12 2014 at 11:26 PM

Was death already? What does that mean?

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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.

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vj April 12 2014 at 7:37 PM

Why are you people so rude and ignorant. People died and you make fun. God will not be waiting for you.

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1 reply
Intense Insanity vj April 12 2014 at 8:02 PM

Welcome to the new age!!

People are rude, hateful and mean because their parents stopped teaching them about Good Old Fashion Family Value and Common Decency back about twenty-years ago, when kids started having kids of their own.

When I was growing up, I'd hold the doors for anyone nearby; especially women, I'd always say yes/no - sir/ma'am and I was taught to respect my elders. Nowadays, the youth seem to target and try and play knock the elders out with one sucker-punch games!!

It's a really sad time for humanity; for which I've lost all respect for myself!!

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Mike Keefer April 13 2014 at 12:25 AM

A head on, does not normally result in a instant fireball. Especially engulfing both vehicles. Something weird happened here.

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1 reply
Buzzy Mike Keefer April 13 2014 at 12:42 AM

I would have to disagree. You have two very large vehicles traveling at 70 mph having a head-on collision, the Fed-EX tractor trailer has two diesel tanks near the front of the vehicle with a capacity of several hundred gallons of diesel fuel. When that gets ruptured and sprayed onto a hot engine, well, the photos tell the rest of the story.

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2 replies
gwhjelm Buzzy April 13 2014 at 1:42 AM

Personally, and professionally, I don't agree with you at all Buzzy. After 30 years in the trade I have seen manny truck accidents, and it usually takes more than a hot engine to start the fire. Diesel engines don't use spark to ignite, but they use compression with a measured amount of fuel to cause combustion. Driver's, mechanics, and heavy truck investigators would not agree with your position. Personally, I have seen truck accidents that have gone through a guard rail on a bridge and drop fifty feet on to the lower road, with diesel fuel everywhere, without a fire. Diesel is hard to burn with an open flame of a match, or cigarette, or even a spark. It can be done, but you are going to there for a while. Gasoline on the other hand, is easy to get a flame for a burn, and it will explode in an accident. My experience just doesn't come from driving, but I have spent two years investigating accidents in a large trucking firm. During this period of time I have been advised by trucking safety consultants, and many professionals in the accident reconstruction business on hundreds of truck accidents. This accident will take a lot of time to find the exact cause, if it is ever found. A great deal of the evidence has been burn't, and finding the origin of the cause may be covered by the subsequent fire. One other thing, is that the personal lives of both of the driver's will be investigated, and they will be able to report the timelines, medical conditions, and problems and conditions with in each firm associated with the accident. This type of accident will bring a very through investigation with no stones left unturned.

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dodalewis Buzzy April 13 2014 at 5:26 AM

Fed Ex Freight trucks are governed at 65 and CANNOT go any faster unless going downhill!

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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!

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pd33 April 12 2014 at 7:44 PM

What was in the truck?

Flag Reply +1 rate up
2 replies
ak841 pd33 April 12 2014 at 7:44 PM

sw

Flag Reply 0 rate up
aarobbins99 pd33 April 12 2014 at 9:36 PM

It was a freight truck probably anything you could imagine. Except bio hazard high explosives or radioactive.

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1 reply
dodalewis aarobbins99 April 13 2014 at 6:05 AM

there haul hazard materials too!

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rodeda13 April 12 2014 at 7:49 PM

As an ex truck driver, I have seen a lot of truck fires. A bad wheel bearing or if one of the duel tires had gone flat it would produce heat. A flat on an inside duel tire can go unnoticed between pre-trip checks. (required by law daily, when changing drivers, or when making a stop when carring hazmat) Also, if he had just come off Mt. Ashland, (OR/CA border) his brakes may have been left 'smoking'. However, they would have cooled by the time he reached Orland.

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1 reply
aarobbins99 rodeda13 April 12 2014 at 8:28 PM

I've seen turbos blow too and start burning the engine oil fed to it. That creates fire exactly where the witnesses said. Comming out from under the rear of the cab. Very scary if you've never seen it before. Usually a loud bang followed by flames shooting out from under the cab. Maybe that's why he lost control. Just a thought.

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tannervin April 12 2014 at 11:42 PM

I drive a small truck for work, and a month ago, a coworker had a fire in his engine and was almost overcome by toxic fumes. He pulled over and staggered out of the vehicle because he felt like he was going to pass out and need fresh air. It was only then that he noticed the flames. Fortunately, there was no accident and no one was injured. This FedEx driver may have encountered the same situation but wasn't lucky enough to realize it in time. If he was unconscious, that would explain why he didn't hit the brakes. Very sad.

Flag Reply +5 rate up
uwantmeda April 13 2014 at 12:40 AM

In many EU countries is forbidden by the hourly rate with bonuses to drivers, they can avoid traffic accident because of time pressure to make the most of salary

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