One victim was a 26-year-old recruiter for Humboldt State University, an energetic leader who was devoted to helping ensure more Latino students made it through high school and got a chance at college.
Two others were chaperones who became engaged in December after the would-be groom planned an elaborate trip to Paris that ended with him proposing to his stunned girlfriend in front of the Louvre.
Another may have been a high school football player feared killed but still missing, a painful ordeal that saw one of his parents traveling north from Los Angeles with the young man’s dental records for possible identification.
Bit by bit Friday, names and backgrounds began to emerge of some of the 10 people killed in Thursday’s horrific crash between a FedEx tractor-trailer truck and a bus full of high school students on Interstate 5 north of Sacramento. The Los Angeles-area high-schoolers were headed to a preview weekend for admitted students on the Humboldt State campus near Arcata. They rode on a bus chartered by Humboldt State as part of the school’s effort to reach out to Latino students from low-income families.
Authorities released only one name of a victim officially Friday, that of Arthur Arzola, 26, a Humboldt State recruiter who died at the UC Davis Medical Center early that day.
But other names began to surface as friends, family members and co-workers came forward to talk about their losses.
Michael Myvett was one of them, a 29-year-old 2007 graduate of Humboldt State who was a chaperone on the bus with his fiancée, Mattison Haywood.
Both were addicted to Disneyland trips, and Myvett loved comic books and the reward he felt teaching children at the Center for Autism and Related Disorders, or CARD, in Torrance.
“Michael is just an extremely positive person, he really did positively impact the lives of the kids he worked with here at CARDS,” said Marina Bulkin, his supervisor.
Myvett, who was on the trip because he loved the university and someday wanted to teach there, lived with Haywood, 25, and planned to get married in the next year or two, Bulkin said.
Myvett planned his proposal down to the smallest detail, secretly buying the ring and purchasing airline tickets, then whisking Haywood off to Paris, where they went to morning Mass at Notre Dame Cathedral, then walked to the Louvre, where he asked her to marry him.
Arzola was another of the adults on the bus, a young man who lived in Southern California and recruited students to come to Humboldt State.
Dr. Tom Rivera, emeritus associate dean of undergraduate students at CSU San Bernardino, said he first met Arzola as an eighth-grader participating in the Inland Empire Future Leaders program, which Rivera helped start. As an adult, Arzola returned annually to mentor youths in the program.
“I think Art was a very dedicated person,” Rivera said. “When he participated in our program, we couldn’t get rid of him.
“He was just actively involved in making a difference in kids’ lives …”
As a student at CSU San Bernardino, Arzola was involved in several activities, including a club for Latino business students and student government, Rivera said. Upon graduation, Arzola went on to get his master’s degree in counseling at the University of La Verne. He was then hired by Humboldt State. Arzola married within the last year or two, Rivera said.
He described Arzola as “very outgoing, very warm, very personable.”
“He just made a wonderful first impression the first time you met him,” he said.
About 7:30 a.m., Rivera received a call from another of his Future Leaders director, who delivered the news about Arzola.
“I got cold shivers throughout my body,” Rivera said. “It was hard to believe it. He contributed so much, and he had much more to contribute to our community.”
Phone calls like that were taking place all over Southern California on Friday as friends and family members searched for information about their loved ones.
Adrian Castro, an El Monte High School football player, was on the bus but has not been accounted for yet, said Nick Salerno, superintendent for the El Monte Union High School District.
Salerno said Adrian’s parents had been asked by authorities to travel to the Orland area with his dental records, a grim task that authorities said Friday might be necessary to identify some victims because of the fireball that engulfed the bus and the FedEx truck.
“We’re still hoping for a miracle and praying and hoping for the best,” Salerno said, “But we’re concerned and worried.”
At Norte Vista High School, Principal Susan Boyd said in an email to The Sacramento Bee that “our school community is grieving” over reports that one 17-year-old student is unaccounted for while her twin sister was safely on another bus. A third student from the school was listed in stable condition after the crash, she wrote.
Investigators for the California Highway Patrol and other agencies cautioned that discovering the cause of the crash will be a lengthy process, possibly taking between three to six months.
In a news conference at the CHP office in Willows, officials also said positively identifying the victims may be difficult and will rely in part on dental records and the use of DNA. The CHP said five students, three chaperones and the drivers of the truck and bus were killed.
The bus and FedEx truck were consumed in a massive fireball after the 5:40 p.m. crash, which occurred when the southbound FedEx truck swerved across the Interstate 5 median near Orland and smashed head-on into the bus, which carried 48 high school students and chaperones.
Nine people were dead at the scene, with the last of the bodies removed from the site at 1:40 a.m. Friday. The bodies of three of the victims were taken to a facility in Orland and six to Willows. They will be moved to Butte County for autopsy and identification.
Arzola, the 10th victim, died at the UC Davis Medical Center after being flown there.
Crash cause a mystery
The CHP said it has no idea yet what caused the crash, whether the FedEx driver fell asleep, had a mechanical issue with the truck or had some type of accident that diverted the vehicle across the median, where it clipped a Nissan Altima carrying two people, then smashed into the bus, the last of three buses in a caravan of students heading to the college.
The victims in the Altima suffered minor injuries, and a total of 31 people were taken to area hospitals with injuries ranging from minor to critical, officials said.
The northbound lanes of I-5 at the crash site near Orland did not reopen until about noon, and by midafternoon only three survivors of the crash remained at Veterans’ Memorial Hall in Orland, where a shelter and command center had been set up.
Outside the building, Scott Gruendl, health and human services director for Glenn County, talked about the unprecedented emergency response.
“This just morphed into an operations center,” Gruendl said, pointing to the hall behind him.
Twelve ambulances and four helicopters were drafted to transport the wounded. The helicopters took off from a field directly across from the center.
At its highest point, 40 county personnel and 60 Red Cross members staffed the center, working through the night to connect victims with family members.
The response was complicated by the fact that students came from different school districts and schools, Gruendl said, making coordination difficult.
County officials had initially drawn up a plan to drive the survivors back in vans. Later, that was changed to rental cars. But now, some school officials are evaluating flying the kids home via a chartered 737 plane in Chico, Gruendl said.
“They wouldn’t want to get in a bus,” he said. “They have been through so much trauma.”
The students were taking part in an annual trek to Humboldt for a Spring Preview day for Southern California high school students aimed at giving them a glimpse of the campus and attracting applicants.
About 900 students were expected, but Humboldt State President Rollin Richmond was absent from campus. He spent much of Friday touring hospitals throughout the north state to console the victims.
Natalie Hernandez graduated from Humboldt State in 2011 with a degree in sociology, a product of the school’s Spring Preview. Three years later and now a youth counselor at Pico Youth and Family Center in Santa Monica, she was back at her alma mater trying to make sense of Thursday night’s tragedy and the loss of two friends, Myvett and Haywood.
“This would’ve been the weekend we were going to catch up, just like we used to,” she said.