NTSB examines claim truck was on fire before crash

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NTSB examines claim truck was on fire before 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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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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