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Bus Accident Leaves 10 Dead On Trip To College


In California, there are many unanswered questions about the bus crash last night that killed 10 people. Five of them were high school students. A FedEx truck crossed a freeway median and collided with the charter bus. The bus was going north, carrying students from Southern California for a college visit. NPR's Sam Sanders has more.

SAM SANDERS, BYLINE: The students were headed to a two-day campus tour of Humboldt State University in Northern California. They were part of a program that brings low-income students to the campus, many who could become the first in their families to attend college. 17-year-old Banning High student Jonathan Gutierrez remembers waking up just moments before his bus collided with the FedEx truck.

JONATHAN GUTIERREZ: I heard people yelling, and then when I woke up, I heard the crash. And as soon as that happened, I, like, flew out of my seat.

SANDERS: Gutierrez told ABC News that soon after impact, the front of the bus was engulfed in flames.

GUTIERREZ: The entire bus was like covered with smoke from the fire. I think two kids broke the windows, so everybody could get out. And the smoke was everywhere, like, you cannot see where you were going. You just saw the light from the window and you just hear everybody coughing. It was so traumatizing.

LT. BRUCE CARPENTER: 5:40 p.m. yesterday, we received the call of the big rig versus the tour bus.

SANDERS: Bruce Carpenter is with the California Highway Patrol.

CARPENTER: We immediately responded with all available resources. Upon our arrival, it was already fully engulfed in flames.

SANDERS: Carpenter says 31 people were transported to multiple hospitals throughout the area, with injuries ranging from critical to minor. And there were multiple deaths.

CARPENTER: We had nine confirmed fatalities at the scene and we had one subsequent fatality of a victim with severe burns.

SANDERS: An investigation has been launched by the California Highway Patrol with help from the National Transportation Safety Board. Officials are giving few details at this point but a key question is why this FedEx truck barreled across a highway median and into the bus. Scott Fredrick is the with the California Highway Patrol.

LT. SCOTT FREDRICK: This time, we don't know whether the FedEx driver had fallen asleep, whether he experienced a mechanical failure with his vehicle or whether there was a separate collision on the southbound side that caused him to lose control.

SANDERS: And Fredrick says final results of the investigation could take three to six months. Humboldt State has been running its Preview Plus program for underprivileged students for over 20 years. Timothy White is the chancellor of the Cal State University system. He says this tragedy has taken the lives of young people that are integral to California's future.

TIMOTHY WHITE: The great sadness is that these are the very students that California needs to be successful going forward. And so we are doubly saddened by the fact that they - many of them are first generation and students from low income who have done all the right academic things and had their dream of going to Humboldt State taken away by this tragic accident.

SANDERS: Throughout the day, the identities of some of those killed were revealed - an admissions officer from Humboldt State, a student from El Monte High School. Several students are still unaccounted for. School officials say some of them could have signed up for the trip, but at the last minute, decided not to go. Sam Sanders, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sam Sanders
Sam Sanders is a correspondent and host of It's Been a Minute with Sam Sanders at NPR. In the show, Sanders engages with journalists, actors, musicians, and listeners to gain the kind of understanding about news and popular culture that can only be reached through conversation. The podcast releases two episodes each week: a "deep dive" interview on Tuesdays, as well as a Friday wrap of the week's news.

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