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NTSB examines claim truck was on fire before crash

Federal investigators are looking into a driver's claim that a FedEx tractor-trailer was already on fire when it careened out-of-control across a freeway median and slammed into a bus taking high school students on a college tour, killing 10 people in a fiery wreck.

The investigators are looking for more witnesses who could corroborate the driver's claim, and planned to examine crash scene evidence for clues of a fire before the vehicles exploded into towering flames on a Northern California highway, National Transportation Safety Board member Mark Rosekind said Saturday.

He said the truck left no skid marks, on either the roadway or the median, as it veered into oncoming traffic, sideswiping a Nissan Altima before crashing into the bus. Five students, three adult chaperones and both drivers died in Thursday's collision on a stretch of Interstate 5 in Orland, a small city about 100 miles north of Sacramento.

Some of the victims were thrown from the bus, Rosekind said.

The woman who drove the sedan told investigators and a KNBC-TV reporter that flames were coming from the lower rear of the truck cab.

"It was in flames as it came through the median," Bonnie Duran said. "It wasn't like the whole thing was engulfed. It was coming up wrapping around him."

Initial reports by police made no mention of a fire before the crash.

The bus was gutted and the truck was a mangled mess after the fiery crash, making it difficult for investigators to determine whether a fire started in the truck before impact. Rosekind said investigators planned to look at blood tests to determine whether the FedEx driver inhaled smoke before the collision, and whether he was impaired.

A family member told the Sacramento Bee the truck driver was Tim Evans, 32, of Elk Grove, Calif.

A blood test will also be conducted for the bus driver, who had only been driving a short time after relieving another driver during a stop in Sacramento. Rosekind said more than 145 feet of tire marks showed that the bus driver tried to brake and swerve to the right to avoid being hit.

He said the bus' black box-style electronic control module was recovered and will be analyzed. The truck's device was destroyed, but other steps will be taken to analyze its speed and maneuvering.

In addition to the cause of the crash, 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.

Bodies recovered from the bus were charred beyond recognition. Dozens of students had injuries including burns, and several remained hospitalized.

Fire safety has been a longstanding concern of the NTSB.

After a 2005 bus fire killed 23 nursing home evacuees escaping Hurricane Rita in Texas, the agency 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.

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.

As part of its investigation into Thursday's crash, the NTSB will also evaluate 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.

The 44 Southern California high school students on the bus, many hoping to become the first in their families to attend college, were on a free trip arranged by Humboldt State University. The university chartered two more buses to bring more than 500 prospective students to the campus for a three-day visit. Those who made it to the university were sent home earlier than scheduled Saturday morning in light of the tragedy.

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

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Firesdcndl April 13 2014 at 9:15 AM

I work for a trucking company in the Safety Department. Everything thing is not so cut and dry as I read the comments. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Rules and Regulations come into play here as well as other government regulations. If true, the rear of the tractor was on fire, it may well be a brake issue. Since it was not the trailer...then the thought of hazmat is not the issue. Most people do not know what is or is not hazmat. If your a company that takes hazmat without the proper paperwork...then shame on you. Also looking at pictures, I don't think the driver fell asleep. Do you know how hard it is to keep a tractor trailer up right in an accident? If they were waking up the knee jerk reactions would be to pull the steering wheel. Heart attack is possible. It's easy to blame without knowing the truth. My heart goes out to all those involved. The families, I am so sorry for your loss. Please let the officials do their jobs and not speculate. This is one of those accidents that needs to be used in safety classes and orientations. Just a remark, I have had 1 truck catch fire twice for wiring and had another parked while my driver sleeps and the truck next to it burn to the ground from faulty wiring.

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1 reply
motor48 Firesdcndl April 13 2014 at 9:52 AM

Very Good Post I also have been a Trucking company owner for 30 Years and as you say they dont just catch fire Now if they can find the cause with the intensity of this Fire it would be remarkable

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Mr Clean April 13 2014 at 4:45 PM

if you dont drive an 18 wheeler, shut up

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endmill44 April 13 2014 at 10:00 AM

Its sad when you hear things like this

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manofspkmm April 13 2014 at 10:02 AM

Very sad...prayers to the families of the victims.

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page114 April 13 2014 at 4:44 PM

Seems something made the truckdriver veer off the side of the road he was on. Maybe he fell asleep? No tire marks or strategic move to avoid going over that median. If there were no bad signals in his blood than sleep seems to be the answer. The cab of that truck being on fire may also be a reason the driver made no corrections,especially if the cab was full of smoke. Hope they find the cause.

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maloontransllc April 13 2014 at 10:07 AM

I own a small fleet of trucks and this sounds like the DPF system( for those that donot know what this is it is a diesel particular filter required by the EPA on diesle engines) These sytems super heat the exchaust system to reduce emissions, the tempatures reach 1700 degrees and this heat is generated by fuel basically being dumped into the exhaust. we have had noting but problems with these systems in fact one small fuel leak in that area will create a fire of great intensity. If there were flames coming from under the right side of the cab that is excactly where this system is mounted. Intense smoke and heat inside the cab would give the driver no vision and really no chance at all of stopping safely outside of a miracle.. It makes me sad for this driver and all the victims on the bus as these sytems should have been perfected before being forced on an entire industry before there time.. The MFG told The EPA back in 1999 that they need more time but were only given seven years to clean the engines up. And 14 years later here we are with these rolling bombs driving down the highway.

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5 replies
Energizer April 13 2014 at 10:20 AM

When the truck cab was filled with smoke, It would be a pretty good guess he didn't bail out trying to steer the truck to avoid a wreck, with his last Breath. He was dead before coming to a stop, plainly spoken.

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Nancy April 13 2014 at 4:36 PM


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Dick April 13 2014 at 4:34 PM

Horrible these young precollege kids had to end their lives so early through no fault of their own. May the good Lord have mercy on all of their souls...

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2 replies
bwerewolves1984 Dick April 13 2014 at 4:43 PM

What good lord??? You must mean the worthless Lord.

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2 replies
lkplumley bwerewolves1984 April 13 2014 at 4:58 PM

Do you do anything besides post this vile type of comment under every story? It seems that every article I read has hateful comments of this ilk from you.

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MRBEE bwerewolves1984 April 13 2014 at 7:09 PM

May the GOOD LORD aka JESUS CHRIST aka GOD, have mercy on you! GOD help us all!

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MRBEE Dick April 13 2014 at 7:12 PM

Good comment. bwerewolves1984's comment about your comment is very rude. Apparently that person is very young and just has no common sense at all. I fell sorry for them.

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Edward Gischel April 13 2014 at 4:29 PM


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1 reply
coastymom Edward Gischel April 13 2014 at 4:55 PM

This was a terrible crash. Non 18 wheeler drivers need to stop guessing...they have no idea how hard it is to drive one of those monsters. Pointing fingers at those unable to defend themselves hurts their families and serves no good purpose. Let the officials do their jobs.
God bless all involved.

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2 replies
Thelma Owens coastymom April 13 2014 at 5:07 PM

Amen brother!

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Eddie Hildreth coastymom April 13 2014 at 5:16 PM

Right on this is very sad what happened to the drivers as well as the students. Having driven both a Buss and a truck, this the last thing drivers want to happen. May God Bless

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