RED BLUFF, Calif. – Federal investigators said Sunday that they haven’t found physical evidence confirming a witness’s claim that a FedEx truck was on fire before it slammed into a bus carrying high school students, killing 10 people in Northern California.
National Transportation Safety Board member Mark Rosekind said investigators are not ruling out a pre-impact fire, but a fire expert did not find evidence of flames as the truck crossed a median, sideswiped a Nissan Altima and crashed into the bus.
“This is all preliminary and factual information,” Rosekind said at a news conference. “We are not ruling anything out.”
The bus was carrying 44 Southern California high school students to a free campus tour of Humboldt State University. Many were hoping to become the first in their families to attend college. Five students, three adult chaperones and both drivers died and dozens were injured in Thursday’s collision in Orland, a small city about 100 miles north of Sacramento.
Bonnie Duran, who drove the Altima and survived with minor injuries, told investigators and reporters Saturday that she had seen flames emerging from the lower rear of the truck’s cab as it approached her car. The bus was gutted and the truck was a mangled mess after an explosion sent flames towering and black smoke billowing, making it difficult for investigators to track the source of the fire.
Rosekind said a blood test of the FedEx truck driver could indicate whether he inhaled smoke before his death. A family member told the Sacramento Bee that the truck driver was Tim Evans, 32, of Elk Grove, Calif.
On the day of the crash, the Sacramento-based driver delivered freight to Weed, Calif., and returned with an empty semi-trailer and a partially loaded semi-trailer, although investigators do not know the contents.
The biggest questions for investigators include why the truck had left its lane and did not leave behind tire marks, suggesting the driver did not brake. The investigation will review maintenance records and the driver’s medical history, experience and potential impairment.
The bus’ black box-style electronic control module was recovered and will be analyzed.