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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

Join the discussion

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john&jan April 13 2014 at 7:42 AM

RIP all of those who died.

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shaju April 13 2014 at 7:42 AM

Very difficult to get over. All dreams shattered for the precious souls both living and dead. No explanation and no answers ever good enough. Let the best of the memories be kind enough to generate more strength to treat the long road forward. May peace find consolation for all affected by this tragedy.

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Gary & Jean April 13 2014 at 7:08 AM

The NTSB is a great agency with great people who know their business. Too bad they are not able to enforce their recommendations and findings. This is something that has been too long coming.

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Debra Merryman April 13 2014 at 7:04 AM

I am sorry to hear about this. It is sad to hear of so many young life gone. I will pray for them and thier faimlies . : (

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1 reply
Btinman82 Debra Merryman April 13 2014 at 7:53 AM

Why?? Where was your god when this happened?

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2 replies
Tammi Btinman82 April 13 2014 at 8:05 AM

God may not what you believe in; but I do. I'm sure that God took them home because He wanted them with Him. So sorry for you. What a stupid comment.

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Therisa Btinman82 April 13 2014 at 8:54 AM

There are 2 Fathers/father in this world. The Father of glory, light, honor and joy (YWYW) and then there is the father of lies, deception, and destruction. YWYH God, (my heavenly father God) created this world as a beautiful, peaceful earth. It wasn't till sin came into the world that the beauty was destroyed! "Why?? Where was your god when this happened?" YOU asked? I will tell you, He was and is in the 3rd heavens awaiting the arrival of HIS children so HE can accept them into His loving arms! He doesn't "take" them, but He does "accept" them into His home! Even though God gives us freewill to make our choices, He said "the fool in his heart says there is no God" Now, by the way you spoke to the other person, I am assuming you are the "fool" He was speaking of! So to directly answer that question, HE (G0D) was on His throne, waiting to accept the beautiful souls that are HIS that lost their lives in that horrible tragedy! God bless them, and their family and friends, and give the survivors and all involved peace of mind and heart, and the strength to carry on!

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nancylee April 13 2014 at 7:23 AM

A horrible tragedy for the students, their families, and the drivers. Who knows what one will do in a panic. Truck driver sees flames coming up; bus driver sees huge semi coming across the median, other nearby drivers swerve, dodge, hit the brakes. It happens too fast, so no use blaming anyone, bus driver, Fed Ex driver, the fuel, not even the Republicans as some reader ranted. Find out about the fire; what started it, and fix it so it doesn't happen again. It was a freaky, tragic accident that some will never get over. If it could have been prevented, then the companies and agencies involved should endeavor to make sure it will not happen again. If you're deeply affected and concerned about the waste of those lost young lives and their grieving families, reach out to them if it's in your power, or at least pray for them, and when you're out on the highway, make driving your car your first priority so that it doesn't happen to you.

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2 replies
mountanben nancylee April 13 2014 at 8:00 AM

The cost of trying to stop something that might happen is killing the trucking co;s,it is a motor vehicle and things go wrong,it could have been a car with some woman talking on a cell phone he try to dodge and lost it .we see it all the time ,women on a cell phone trying to run the house from the phone .It could have beeen a short in the truck wireing they go up in secons .never know about that . ont thing i know we dont need is more laws.

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1 reply
Adonasina mountanben April 13 2014 at 8:07 AM

As if we didnt see men on the cellphone, ey? What a stupid comment

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gridermass46 nancylee April 13 2014 at 8:11 AM

listen to what Nancy has to say we can blame who we want but what it comes down to is fix whats wrong to start with so it never happens again everyone points a finger before knowing what happened this driver might have been dead before the accident dam it get the facts straight or shut up let the investigation finish then rant and rave but in the mean time we have families who lost children, wives and husbands

Flag Reply +2 rate up
mark_ohio April 13 2014 at 8:18 AM

I can say this much, It is a tragedy.
Every one of use needs to go back to drivers education. Take nothing for granted. Safety should be every ones concern. Accidents happen when we are driving and least expect it. I have seen a lot of bad situations out there. Being able to know how to avoid bad situations ahead of time may prevent an accident. Too many distractions, being in a big hurry. We are all in a big hurry to get to where we are going.
If we see something wrong and try to warn another driver we get flipped off. Driving should not be impersonal. Think about what you are driving. Whether it is a car or a simi give them room.
This accident may or may not have been preventable. To much 2nd guessing right now. The NTSB will get to the root cause.
We can not see the future, we need to change what we do in the present. Be kinder when we are driving and more courteous.

Flag Reply +7 rate up
1 reply
dottibrooks1 mark_ohio April 13 2014 at 10:17 AM

Mark, I am not one that normally comments/writes on topics such as the one you have (or any topics, for that matter). I do skim over comments, as it gives me a clear idea of what people are feeling. I do want to say that your comments, the way you stated everything was terrific. You stated the problem, but came up with a solution -- a solution that is simple "change what we do in the present...be kinder.....and more courteous"....thank you for sharing your comments in such a classy way.


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mrrenov8 April 13 2014 at 8:19 AM

This is such a horrific tragedy for all the people that died and their families. My prayers go out to all involved. As far as the comment below that stated FedEx has all the tracking numbers of the packages and see who shipped hazardous materials that possibly could have caused this, not all shippers label such packages as Hazardous materials. I worked for the largest package company in the world for over 26 years and I know first hand that people send hazardous materials through the system without claiming they are as they have to be a lot of extra fees and do a lot more paperwork.
Once again its all about money not the safety of the human being. as stated below look at GM knowing there were defects but they will make more money selling the vehicles than they will lose with lawsuits. God bless the families who lost loved ones, so sad.

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traysteph23 April 13 2014 at 7:58 AM

This is why people shouldn't make such harsh and mean comments and judgments when news like this is first released. There were so many cruel statements about this FedEx driver when there were no details about what happened. At least wait for the full story before condemning someone. If you don't know what happened, don't make judgments.

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JOHN JUANOPULOS April 13 2014 at 7:53 AM


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tcdesalvo April 13 2014 at 8:24 AM

Fed-Ex trucks are well maintained. If the truck was indeed on fire, the brakes likely culprit. Over adjusting can cause them to over heat and catch fire. Unfortunately, no one saw the driver. Since no attempt was made to stop, he may already have died of a heart attack before the truck went out of control. It should also be noted that these trucks are governed at 62 mph. If he side swiped a car, it had to have been a slow mover and may have jumped out in front of him to pass another slower vehicle. Sad for all involved. Serves as a reminder how short life is.

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1 reply
firedog3212 tcdesalvo April 13 2014 at 8:40 AM

My truck is governed at 64 mph and fedex freight trucks pass me like I'm sitting still. fedex ground trucks are owner operator, Fed ex office @ 64mph, Fed Express trucks are governed at 62. There is a big differance in each branch of Fed Ex

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1 reply
hfreebird31 firedog3212 April 13 2014 at 9:03 AM

i drive for Freight on the east coast and we top out at 65

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