He was heading home to Elk Grove, to what he loved best: his wife, who had been his high school sweetheart, and his two young daughters.
Federal investigators say they are only beginning to examine what caused FedEx driver Tim Evans, a lifelong Sacramentan, to veer into oncoming traffic on Interstate 5 Thursday evening, smashing headlong into a bus carrying 44 Southern California high school students and their chaperones going to visit Humboldt State University.
The crash left both vehicles consumed in flames, and 10 people dead, including Evans, who was 32.
On Saturday, officials with the National Transportation Safety Board said they were looking into a witness account that the cab of the FedEx tractor-trailer was on fire before it hit the bus. During an evening news conference in Red Bluff, NTSB official Mark Rosekind said the driver of a Nissan Altima that was sideswiped by the truck told authorities she saw flames coming from underneath the cab as the vehicle crossed the freeway median before the crash.
The Altima was ahead of the bus, in the same lane, when it was struck by the FedEx truck. The occupants of the Altima suffered minor injuries in the crash.
A preliminary review of the site near Orland, 100 miles north of Sacramento, found no skid or tire marks to indicate that the FedEx driver hit his brakes before the crash. However, there were skid marks from the bus that showed it was veering to the right just before impact.
“That driver was clearly reacting to a situation with braking and a driving maneuver,” Rosekind said.
Rosekind said investigators have found the electronic control module – a data box that records information about vehicle movements – for the bus and will analyze it. The data box for the FedEx truck, however, was destroyed in the crash, he said. The CHP has taken blood samples from the drivers of both the truck and the bus to be tested for alcohol, medications and illegal drugs, Rosekind said. He emphasized that the investigation had only just started and asked witnesses to contact authorities.
“We’re not going to speculate” on what caused the crash, he said. “We can’t go there yet.”
Both vehicles were consumed in flames in the crash. Five of the dead were adults, including the bus driver. Five were high school students who were participating in a preview weekend for incoming freshman at the Humboldt State campus in Arcata on the Redwood Coast.
As of Saturday night, two of the 11 bus riders who had been hospitalized remained under treatment at Enloe Medical Center in Chico, both listed in fair condition.
Officials so far have released the name of only one person killed in the crash: Humboldt admissions counselor Arthur Arzola, 26. Friends and family have identified Humboldt alumni Michael Myvett, 29, and his fiancée, Mattison Haywood, 25, both of whom were chaperones on the trip. The Los Angeles ABC affiliate reported that relatives have identified the bus driver killed in the crash as Tala Salanoa.
A family member on Saturday confirmed that Evans was the FedEx driver killed in the crash. Debbie Otto, the stepmother of Evans’ wife, Candice, described her son-in-law as a “kind, caring and unbelievably happy man” who had been driving professionally for several years.
Otto said the family was devastated and wondering what could have happened to cause Evans’ truck to veer into traffic.
Friends and family flooded his Facebook page with condolences, expressing shock and sadness and offering fond memories. One co-worker wrote: “(I’m) doing deliveries with no music. Just the windows rolled down, thinking why it had to be you. I’m gonna miss you bro.”
Evans grew up in Sacramento, Otto said, and graduated from John F. Kennedy High School, where he played several sports. She said he and his wife were high school sweethearts and married in 2006. They have two girls, Summer, 8, and Macie, 6. He helped coach their soccer and softball teams.
“He was very much in love with his wife,” Otto said. “They were a great example of a loving couple.”
Otto said Evans was healthy and perpetually upbeat: “Tim loved everybody, and everybody loved Tim. We’re doing a lot of waiting, a lot of crying and a lot of consoling.”
Rosekind said the NTSB is conducting the investigation with the California Highway Patrol, Caltrans, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, FedEx and Silverado States Inc., which owned the bus. Among the issues the agencies will review is the state’s decision not to put a median barrier on the highway. That decision, he said, is optional, given the broad width of the median.
Glenn County Sheriff Larry Jones said the coroner’s office was still working to formally identify the crash victims. “Arrangements have been made to start an ID process with a dental expert,” Jones said in an email. “(We) must match names to the remains. Autopsies will continue into (Sunday).”
At Humboldt State, where the students had been headed, a sense of numbness prevailed Saturday. Flags flew at half-staff beneath overcast skies.
Humboldt alum Natalie Hernandez, 27, a youth counselor at Pico Youth and Family Center in Santa Monica, brought 15 teens to visit the campus this week. They traveled the same route as the ill-fated bus, and Hernandez knew two of the people killed.
“We drove the same roads they drove, had the same conversations, and we made it and they didn’t,” she said. “It’s been really hard on them.”
The students on the bus that crashed were participants in Humboldt’s Preview Plus, a program started in 1989 with the aim of increasing diversity at the campus. Roughly half the participants each year commit to the college.
Hernandez, who grew up in Southern California, said she was a product of the program herself. Later, as a student, she shared her dorm room with visiting high schoolers.
“Spring Preview was a big part of (college) being special,” she said. “Coming from Huntington Park, it opened me to a whole new world outside of L.A. It showed the family connection you were going to have at Humboldt.”
Participants typically tour the campus with Humboldt students and alumni, sit in on classes and meet faculty during the two-day event.
This year, nearly 40 high schools were represented from the Bay Area, the Central Valley, Los Angeles and the Inland Empire. About 500 students made the trip.
The diversity campaign has made a difference. Now a quarter of students at the campus are Latino. Last October, Humboldt was recognized by the U.S. Department of Education for its diversity.
“We’re looking more like the face of California,” said Peg Blake, a university vice president. “We like knowing that a student maybe is the first one in their family to graduate from college. That’s why it’s important to us and why our hearts are broken.”
University officials offered the school’s “deepest condolences” to those connected to Thursday’s crash. They have established a fund to aid those affected.
“This has been an unbelievably difficult time for so many people and there are difficult days ahead,” the university statement read. “Our thoughts are with you.”