The FedEx tractor-trailer driver in Thursday’s fatal collision on Interstate 5 near Orland had a clean driving record with no history of violations, and officials are still investigating what may have caused him to veer into oncoming traffic.
Timothy Paul Evans, 32, of Elk Grove was driving the tractor-trailer south on I-5 Thursday at 5:40 p.m. when it suddenly shot across the median, clipped a northbound Nissan Altima and smashed into a northbound bus packed with high school students.
Evans, five students, three chaperones and the bus driver, Talalelei Lealao-Taiao, 53, of Sacramento, reportedly died in the crash.
Glenn County officials have not officially released the names of the dead from the crash, but friends, family members and school officials have been releasing names since Friday.
Lealao-Taiao’s Facebook page carried a message Monday from her 25-year-old daughter, Jordayna Lealao of Sacramento, thanking people for their support:
“I know that my mom more than prepared me and Jordan for this moment,” she wrote. “I believe with the great support of Family and friends that we are gonna be okay.”
Lealao-Taiao’s family could not be reached Monday, but her Facebook page carried condolence messages for the family and displayed a photo of her holding a young baby.
The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the crash, and officials said in a briefing Sunday that there was no indication the FedEx truck was on fire before it swerved across the freeway, as some witnesses had reported. The NTSB said Monday it had no new developments to report.
Authorities are investigating numerous possibilities, including whether there was a mechanical problem with the FedEx truck.
The bus was operated by Silverado Stages in San Luis Obispo, and the company released a statement on its website saying it is “helping the authorities in gathering information regarding the tragic accident that occurred on Thursday evening.”
“Our top priority is making sure that the injured are being cared for,” the statement read. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the injured, their families and everyone affected by this accident.”
Company officials declined to comment, referring inquiries to Jim Saunders, an insurance provider and media contact for Silverado who confirmed the bus driver’s name. A California Department of Motor Vehicles records check showed Lealao-Taiao also had a clean driving record, with the exception of a brief suspension of her license a decade ago.
“The real focus for Silverado is just their sorrow and heartbreak at the tragedy,” Saunders said. “This is an awful situation, and their hearts go out to all the families involved.”
The students on the bus were headed to a Spring Preview day at Humboldt State University. Many of them would have been the first in their families to go to college.
All of them were from Southern California high schools, including Ánimo Jackie Robinson Charter High School in Inglewood. Two students from that school – Denise Gomez and Ismael Jimenez, both 18 – died in the crash, according to Marco Petruzzi, chief executive officer for Green Dot Public Schools.
“One of the other students on the trip, who attends Ánimo Jackie Robinson Charter High School, returned home last Friday night and related to our staff how Ismael busted open a window at the front of the bus as it was filling with smoke and people were getting burned,” Petruzzi said in a statement. “He started lifting kids out in an effort to save them.
“Ismael will be remembered as someone who forever affected the lives of young people he barely knew. He was indeed a hero. The teachers, counselors and staff at Ánimo Inglewood describe Ismael and Denise as model students who warmed the hearts of everyone they knew.”
Other students reportedly killed in the crash were Adrian Castro, 19; Marisa Serrato, 17; and Jennifer Bonilla, 17.
Also killed were an engaged couple serving as chaperones – Michael Myvett, 29, and Mattison Haywood, 25 – and Arthur Arzola, 26, a Humboldt State recruiter and counselor.