ORLAND, Calif. — It was a busload of opportunity: young, low-income, motivated students, destined to become the first in their families to go to college, journeying from the concrete sprawl of Los Angeles to a remote redwood campus 650 miles north.
Those dreams were shattered for some Thursday in an explosive freeway crash that left 10 dead — students, chaperones and both drivers — and dozens hospitalized.
Desperate families awaited word from loved ones yesterday, while investigators tried to figure out why a southbound FedEx big rig swerved across the grassy divide of California’s key artery before sideswiping a car and slamming into the tour bus, which burst into a furious blaze.
“We’re trying to think positively,” said Miguel Serrato, whose twin 17-year-old sisters had set off on the adventure Thursday on separate buses. Marisol made it to their destination, Humboldt State University, but there was no word from Marisa, who had been aboard the now-gutted bus.
But when a sheriff’s deputy asked her father yesterday morning for Marisa’s dental records, a grim call made to several families yesterday, Serrato said his family as “getting a little bit scared.” His mother was booking a flight to head north.
The bus was among three Humboldt had chartered as part of its two-day Preview Plus program to bring prospective students to tour the Arcata campus, according to university officials. Before launching the event yesterday, university Vice President Peg Blake’s voice broke as she asked a crowded theater for a moment of silence in honor of everyone affected by the accident.
Most survivors were injured, some with critical burns or broken limbs. Those who made it out said they scrambled through a kicked-out window. One was in flames. Those who could sprinted, others staggered, in a desperate dash to the opposite side of Interstate 5 before the vehicle exploded.