The bus that erupted into flames on a California freeway carried high school students with promising academic futures — some poised to become the first in their families to go to college.
As their schools and loved ones come to grips with the tragedy, authorities said Friday that they plan to work through the weekend to positively identify the 10 victims, among them five students.
“The thing that makes this ironic and sad is these are the students California really needs,” Timothy White, chancellor of the California State University system, said at a news conference. “Many of them are first generation [college students] and students from low-income who have done all the right things and who have had their dreams taken away by this accident.”
The more than 40 students on board the charter bus were from various Los Angeles-area high schools. They were headed for Humboldt State University, north of Sacramento, when a FedEx truck plowed into their bus Thursday afternoon.
Some of the students had already been accepted to the school, others were still deciding if the campus — a 12-hour drive from their homes — would be the right fit.
“These were students who were graduating, and … were going to a place that was one of their dreams, so that’s quite painful,” said Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent John Deasy at a separate news conference.
Nineteen students from 16 schools in L.A. Unified were on the bus. Officials wouldn’t say whether any of them were among the fatalities.
This is a time of year when high school students begin traveling to potential colleges before the fall, Deasy said.
Humboldt State University President Rollin Richmond said he was “saddened” by the accident, and had met with some of the families of students who were being treated in the local hospitals.
The students shuttling to Humboldt come from low-income families, and “might not otherwise have the opportunity to be a part of a university,” Richmond told reporters.
Many of the families were rushing north to be reunited with their children, officials said.
Authorities, however, said it would be a “long and arduous process” before those killed can be positively identified. Some of them were badly burned, and it may take dental records or DNA analysis to confirm their identities, said Glenn County Sheriff Larry Jones.
“We know that this is extremely hard on loved ones of the victims … that means that they’re going to have to sit there and wait until that positive identification comes,” Jones said.
Nine of the victims died in the wreckage and a 10th one succumbed to his burns after being taken to UC Davis Medical Center, Jones added.
Authorities said most of the bodies were found at the front of the bus, where the FedEx truck smashed head-on. The drivers of both vehicles were killed.
Crash investigators were combing over the scene Friday, and will look into whether human error played a role.
Lt. Scott Frederick, of the California Highway Patrol, said the driver may have fallen asleep or experienced mechanical failure with his tractor-trailer. A “sophisticated mapping equipment” will be used to recreate the accident, he added.