Crime - Sacto 911

Investigation: FedEx driver’s unsafe lane change caused deadly collision with bus

A row of candles were set on a dirt road near the crash site.
A row of candles were set on a dirt road near the crash site.

The driver of a FedEx tractor-trailer made an unsafe turn, causing the vehicle to slice through the center divider on Interstate 5 and careen head-on into a bus full of high school students near Orland last April, according to a 13-month investigation by the California Highway Patrol.

The CHP said it couldn’t determine why FedEx driver Timothy Paul Evans, 32, of Elk Grove, suddenly turned his tractor-trailer, allowing it to cross from the southbound lanes into the northbound lanes of I-5 in unincorporated Glenn County, about 100 miles north of Sacramento.

Evans was among 10 people to die in the April 10, 2014, accident that also injured 39 people, mostly high school students from Los Angeles heading to a college visit at Humboldt State University in Arcata.

“The truck went across in a shallow angle and didn’t deviate from that path,” said Sgt. Nate Parsons, who supervised the investigation, in an interview Friday. “There were no evasive maneuvers – no brakes, no turning movements – to veer from the path.”

FedEx Corp. officials declined to comment Friday on the CHP report, pending the outcome of a separate investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board expected to be released in the next few months.

“Our heartfelt sympathy remains with everyone affected by this accident. FedEx Freight cooperated fully with federal and state agencies during their respective investigations, and will carefully review the CHP report,” FedEx said in a written statement.

Richard Bennett, attorney for the bus driver, Talalelei Lealao-Taiao, 53, of Sacramento, called Friday’s revelations “bittersweet.”

“She loved her job and particularly loved taking kids on buses,” he said. “She was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. There was nothing she did wrong.”

The report indicated that Lealao-Taiao braked several times and tried to evade the tractor-trailer, but to no avail.

“She started braking several hundred feet before the impact and began turning to the right,” Parsons said. “That slowed the bus significantly, but it wasn’t enough to avoid the collision. She just didn’t have enough time.”

Debbie Otto, Evans’ mother-in-law, said the family didn’t travel to Southern California for the CHP briefing.

“I don’t have any comment,” Otto said, after being informed about the investigation results by a Bee reporter.

The FedEx tractor-trailer left Sacramento at 10 a.m. that day to deliver two trailers in Weed, about 49 miles south of the Oregon border, according to authorities. Evans picked up two other trailers around 3:30 p.m. and was headed back to Sacramento when the crash occurred.

Witnesses and victims struggled to process the tragedy, 911 tapes from the CHP showed.

“The bus hit a FedEx truck … head-on,” a student tells a dispatcher, after being prompted several times for details. During the call, shouting and crying can be heard.

In another tape, a witness tells one operator, “We have a massive fire … we have all kinds of students out here on the highway.”

Some 35 lawsuits have been filed in the incident, mostly targeting FedEx and bus company Silverado Stages, according to Katherine Harvey-Lee, an attorney who represents multiple victims. She expects the complaints to be consolidated to a single courtroom in Los Angeles County.

Investigators may never know what caused Evans to deviate from his lane. Key evidence including the engine control units – which record speed, braking and other technical data – were damaged in the blaze, Parsons said. The investigation included an accident reconstruction test with similar vehicles at the crash site last year.

CHP officials said they couldn’t determine whether fatigue or an undiagnosed medical condition contributed to the crash because of the condition of Evans’ body. An eyewitness on the bus told investigators that Evans was slumped toward the driver’s window seconds before the crash.