It was supposed to be a get-acquainted trip for students from Southern California who had been accepted at Humboldt State University. But the bus trip to the Northern California college turned deadly on Interstate 5 near the Glenn County town of Orland on Thursday when a FedEx tractor-trailer crossed the grassy center divider, slammed into the chartered vehicle, and created a fireball that resulted in 10 deaths and dozens of injuries. The horrific collision has San Francisco trucking accident attorney Gregory J. Brod noting that the tragedy took place in the midst of an upswing in accidents involving trucks in California.
According to The New York Times, state authorities have said that it could take months to determine what caused the driver of the FedEx truck to cross over the divider and hit the bus, a collision that took the lives of five of the students on board among the 10 deceased that included the drivers of both vehicles; 31 more passengers were taken to seven hospitals. In the chaotic scene that unfolded, panicked children, attempted to flee the bus from its windows or the rear emergency door. Many of the children were limping and bleeding from cuts to their faces.
Meanwhile, the bus and tractor-trailer were engulfed in a huge conflagration from the impact that could be heard from as far as one-quarter mile away, according to Glenn County Sheriff Larry Jones, and the collision resulted in I-5 being shut down on both sides of the highway.
“This was a horrific collision,” said Jones, who is also the county coroner. A fire “with very high temperatures” broke out almost immediately after the impact, he said.
There were 47 people on board the bus, including high school students and their chaperones who were from Southern California school districts, including Los Angeles, Long Beach and Riverside. The high school teens were visiting Humboldt State as part of a spring program for admitted students.
A couple of unsettling factors that investigators will be looking into as to why the driver of the southbound FedEx truck veered out of control before striking the northbound bus will be whether the truck driver fell asleep or whether the truck had mechanical problems. The California Highway Patrol noted that prior to colliding with the bus, the truck sideswiped another vehicle, although the CHP said that it was not immediately clear what role that may have played in the subsequent disaster.
One thing that is clear, unfortunately, is that accidents in California involving commercial trucks have been on the upswing lately, with deadly consequences. According to KTVU News, in 2012 there were 1,015 collisions involving commercial trucks in the state, up from 951 in 2009. Indeed, the crash numbers have been on the rise for the last five years, and fatalities and injuries have also gone up during the same period.
Some of the trucking accidents may have been attributable to improperly maintained vehicles – commercial vehicle license holders are required to properly maintain their trucks in California – or the crashes may have been due to an increased number of trucks on the highway due to an improving economy. But another culprit may have been the pressures of meeting deadlines and longer hauls that may be a contributory factor to driver fatigue, which may have been an issue in the Glenn County crash on Thursday.