Grief follows ‘great tragedy’

Bryn Robertson
Mad River Union

ORLAND/ARCATA – A tragic accident on Thursday, April 10, involving the collision of a FedEx tractor-trailer and a chartered bus traveling from Los Angeles to Humboldt State University left 10 dead, including three chaperons  and five high school students on their way to preview the Humboldt State University campus.

The collision occurred when the FedEx vehicle, traveling south on Interstate 5 in Orland, crossed the grassy divider into oncoming traffic and slammed into the bus full of students participating in the Spring Preview Program at HSU, a student-run tour of the Humboldt campus community. The cause of the accident is currently under investigation by California Highway Patrol.

Among the deceased were both drivers and three chaperones accompanying the students, including Arthur Arzola, an HSU admissions staff member and recruiter based in Los Angeles. Thirty students were reported injured and transported to local hospitals near the Chico and Redding area near the crash site. The impacted bus was one of three traveling HSU for Spring Preview and the Preview Plus program for low-income and first generation potential college students. Forty to 50 students rode on each bus, including 120 Preview Plus students and additional students enrolled in the regular Preview Program, said Peg Blake, HSU Vice President for Enrollment Management and Student Affairs.

The other two buses, one from LA and the other from Fresno, arrived safely Thursday night. Students who arrived in Arcata Thursday participated in the Preview program Friday morning.

“It was more of a somber day than it typically is,” said Blake. “Normally it’s more of a party, but not today.”

Students in the program were scheduled for more orientation programs on Saturday, April 12, but instead were sent home. They boarded buses and went home that morning.

“Campus officials decided to get them back to their families early, given the emotional toll of the last two days,” stated an update on the HSU website.

Natalie Wisdom, a senior from Poway, Calif. said she almost took the bus that was in the crash, but decided against the trip just prior to its departure. Accepted into Washington State, which has its preview day before HSU, Natalie decided to make the drive with her mom, Lisa Wisdom, instead.

“I was hesitant to sit on a long bus ride. The whole set of circumstances is so horrible, but I’m thankful at the same time, ” said Lisa Wisdom.

Within the first hour following the crash, dispatch at Humboldt State University’s police department received hundreds of calls from parents and friends, said UPD Sergeant John Packer.

“We were working to connect parents to those students who [were] involved,” Packer said. “The CHP is on the scene today (last Friday) to determine the cause. It’s outside of our jurisdiction.”

In addition to providing and assisting with transportation home for injured students and chaperones, HSU arranged counseling and lodging for affected students, including those who traveled in the two additional buses. “The second LA bus was personally impacted,” said Vice President Blake. Students “knew people in the crash.”

HSU President Rollin Richmond said in a newsletter to students, staff and faculty that he visited some of the victims at the hospitals in the area near the accident.

“At this time of great tragedy, I am heartened by the continuing enthusiasm among these young people to pursue their education,” said Richmond. “We should all be proud of the many staff and faculty who coordinated our campus response. They answered calls, connected families with students, worked with other agencies, and so much more.”

Names of deceased have been released. The students were Adrian Castro, 19, from El Monte High School, Marisa Serrato, 17, of Riverside High, Ismael Jimenez and Denise Gomez, both 18-year-old seniors at Animo Inglewood Charter High School, and Jennifer Bonilla, 17, of Dorsey High School, who was confirmed as a victim by her family. Bus driver Talalelei Lealao-Taiao and FedEx truck driver Tim Evans perished in the crash. Chaperones Michael Myvette and Mattison Haywood were killed, along with HSU staff member Arthur Arzola.

Peg Blake, a colleague of Arzola, described him as a bright, articulate man with a passion for helping low-income students.

Approximately 120 of the 900 students who attended the HSU Spring Preview participated in the Preview Plus Program, an opportunity for traditionally under-represented students.

Last week, Mayor Mark Wheetley ordered the flags on Arcata City property be lowered to half-staff through today, April 16.

Families and others seeking assistance coping with the event are urged to contact Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) School Mental Health Services at (213) 241-3841 and at the second floor of the Student, Health, Wellness & Counseling Center on the Humboldt State Campus, or to contact the HSU Counseling Center at (707) 826-3236.

Staff or faculty seeking additional support may utilize the Employee Assistance Program at (707) 443-7358.

It is still too early to determine if any changes, involving transportation or otherwise will be made to future HSU Preview Programs, said Sgt. Packer.

The following schools had students involved in the HSU program: Adolfo Camarillo High, Alliance Judy Ivie Burton Tech, Alliance Media Arts and Entertainment Design High School, Animo Inglewood Charter High, Animo Jackie Robinson Charter, Burroughs High, California Academy of Mathematics, Carson Senior High, Century High, Cesar E. Chavez Learning Academy, Downey High, Eastside High, El Monte High, Environmental Charter, Gompers Preparatory Academy, John C. Fremont Senior High, La Sierra High, Loara High, Manual Arts Senior High, Marshall Fundamental, Mayfair High, Middle College High, Norte Vista High, Oxnard High, Pacifica High, Palm Desert High, Phineas Banning Senior High, Pioneer High, Polytechnic High, Pomona Senior High, Renaissance Arts Academy, School for the Visual Arts, Susan Miller Dorsey Senior High, Ulysses S. Grant Senior High, Valhalla High, West Ranch High and Woodrow Wilson Senior High.

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