Jeremy Lockett / <252>The Associated Press

Flames engulf the FedEx truck and tour bus just after the collision Thursday on Interstate 5 near Orland. At least 10 people died in the crash, authorities said.

No evidence of fire before I-5 crash; investigators look at cargo, drivers’ cellphone records

Published: Sunday, Apr. 13, 2014 - 9:00 pm
Last Modified: Monday, Apr. 14, 2014 - 5:16 pm

With no apparent evidence of a fire before the crash, investigators said Sunday they are looking at cargo, drivers’ cellphone records and other areas of possible interest in Thursday’s collision of a truck and bus on Interstate 5 near Orland that killed 10 people.

The driver and a passenger in a car traveling just ahead of the bus at the time of the crash told a local television station that it appeared to them the southbound FedEx big rig was “in flames” when it crossed the center median and slammed into a northbound charter carrying students and chaperones from the Los Angeles area to tour Humboldt State University in Arcata.

National Transportation Safety Board member Mark Rosekind dampened the possibility of a pre-crash blaze as a likely scenario that figured into the fiery highway tragedy.

“There is no evidence of a pre-impact fire located at the accident scene, on the median or the highway,” Rosekind told reporters at a press conference Sunday in Orland.”

Rosekind, who is acting as the NTSB front man in the on-scene investigation, said he was only relaying “preliminary factual information” and that “nothing is ruled out” as a cause of the crash.

The driver of the FedEx truck has been identified by his family members as Timothy Evans, 32, of Elk Grove. Rosekind said Evans, who was based in Sacramento, had delivered a load of freight to a location in Weed, about 49 miles south of the Oregon border, the day of the accident. Evans was returning with one empty trailer and another that was partially loaded, according to Rosekind, who did not identify what the trucker was hauling when the accident happened shortly after 5:40 p.m. Thursday.

“We’re in the process of collecting the manifest to determine the specifics of that partial load, especially if there was any hazardous material there,” Rosekind said.

In response to a reporter’s question, Rosekind said investigators “are in the process of collecting” cellphone records on both Evans and the driver of the charter bus, who also was killed and who has not yet been identified. The bus was owned and operated by Silverado Stages, according to Rosekind. The company is located in San Luis Obispo.

“We always look at the human, the machine and the environment,” Rosekind said. The NTSB official said investigators plan to look at Evans’ activities over the 72 hours leading up to the crash.

“We’re going to be looking at when they were at work, when rest took place, the cellphone use,” Rosekind said.

Investigators also are “looking at fatigue, distraction and other human performance issues,” he said.

The NTSB website site identifies Rosekind as “one of the world’s foremost human fatigue experts.” He had operated his own company, Alertness Solutions, before his appointment to the NTSB by President Barack Obama. He also held a position at NASA as fatigue expert and was director of the Center for Human Sleep Research at Stanford.

An estimated 23,400 vehicles a day – 21 percent of which are commercial – travel the stretch of Interstate 5 in Glenn County where the crash took place. Citing California Highway Patrol statistics, Rosekind said there have been 109 accidents within a 10-mile radius of the crash site, including one fatality – but no wrecks where one of the vehicles crossed the median.

Rosekind said there is no requirement to install barriers on medians that are 50 feet wide or more, as was the distance in Glenn County. He said the investigation will still look into the state Transportation Department’s decision-making process on why it opted to keep the median unguarded.

Investigators were intrigued, Rosekind said, by the discovery of a cellphone video of the fire taken by the couple in the Nissan Altima who escaped major injury in the crash. More video also was retrieved from car cameras in the first-responding CHP black-and-whites.

“This is critical information for us to understand how the fire progressed and also how (bus) passengers exited,” Rosekind said.

The pictures will be especially helpful in determining how many passengers on the bus had to kick out their windows to get away. Each of the windows but one, at the lavatory, was supposed to work as an emergency exit. Rosekind said the videos might show whether some of them jammed.

Investigators also have retrieved the electronic control modules on both vehicles in the crash. Such “black box” information, even from the one that was destroyed in the truck, will help determine speeds and wheel revolutions, Rosekind said.

He said the crash-scene investigation is likely to be concluded within the next five to 10 days, with most of the action now shifting to Los Angeles, where officials plan to conduct more interviews and gather more documentation.

He said the NTSB will issue a report on its preliminary factual findings within 30 days, with the board several weeks away from making a final determination on the cause of the crash.

Call The Bee’s Andy Furillo, (916) 321-1141. Follow him on Twitter @andyfurillo.

Read more articles by Andy Furillo

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