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Mother of student killed in fiery bus crash drives to crash scene

April 11, 2014|By Kate Mather, Adolfo Flores and Chris Megerian

ORLAND, Calif. -- Adrian Castro’s mother heard about the fiery bus crash and, when she couldn’t get answers about the fate of her son, got in her car and drove all night.

At 6:30 a.m. Friday, she walked into a Red Cross shelter near the crash site and got the news she had been dreading.

“They were 90% sure my son was dead,” said Veronica Soriano, crying over the phone. “They just had to get the dental records to confirm.”

Officials have said that 10 people were killed in the fiery Interstate 5 crash: Five students, three chaperons and the drivers of the bus and FedEx truck. Coroner's officials have formally identified only one victim -- 26-year-old admissions counselor Arthur Arzola -- and said bodies were so badly burned that identifying them will be difficult. But relatives have said they presume the worst for missing loved ones who were known to be on the bus.

Adrian Castro's classmates and their parents struggled to absorb the news on campus, where students had begun chalking memories of the teen on sidewalks. Castro, 19, played cornerback on the El Monte High team and someday hoped to be an athletic trainer.

They’re distraught; they’re all falling apart,” said Monica Lopez, whose two sons played with Castro. “But they’re all sticking together.”

Angel Gonzalez, another classmate, said Adrian had wavered on taking the trip to Humboldt State because of a party he wanted to attend.

He was really excited about Humboldt,” Angel said. “He was thrilled. He wanted to go see how it is. He’s just adventurous, wanted to have a good time.”

Another victim, Arzola, the admissions counselor, was described by family members as having a passion for working with underprivileged students and helping guide them toward college. Though he worked for Humboldt State, he continued to live in Southern California and recruit students from the region. The university confirmed his death.

"Words cannot express our sadness," Humboldt State officials said in a statement.

Arzola's stepmother said he was a straight-A student in high school and served as a peer counselor at academic camps geared toward helping underprivileged young people.

He wanted to make it an even playing field. He wanted them to have the same opportunities,” Stephanie Arzola said. “He always just wanted to just help students be passionate about school and have them move on to higher education, make something of themselves, and have a career.”

Michael Myvett, a 29-year-old Humboldt State University graduate, was identified as one of the other chaperons missing and presumed killed. 

“Our hearts and prayers go out to the victims of this tragic accident,” said Trinice Sampson, a family spokeswoman. “Michael is unaccounted for and presumed dead.”

Myvett was traveling with his fiancee, who was identified by family members as Mattison Haywood. The two were engaged in Paris during the holidays, relatives said.

Haywood was also still missing, Myvett's family said.

The crash has sent shockwaves across the state, resonating particularly in Southern California, where more than two dozen schools said they had students on the trip. Nearly 24 hours after the crash, many were still trying to account for their students. 

The bus was one of three heading to Humboldt State for its Preview Plus program, which gives low-income and first-generation college students a free chance to visit the university. About 100 students typically attend the two-day session from the L.A. area, the university said.

About 5:40 p.m. Thursday, officials said they received the first call about the crash. By the time first responders arrived, authorities said, the bus was engulfed in flames.

Witnesses described a horrific scene as the teenagers kicked out windows to get out of the bus. Dozens were injured, including one man who witnesses said was on fire. The sound of the crash could be heard up to a quarter of a mile away, authorities said.

California Highway Patrol Lt. Scott Fredrick said it remained unclear whether the FedEx driver – who officials said was among those killed – had fallen asleep, whether his semi had some type of mechanical failure or whether there had been a collision with another vehicle in the moments before the bus was struck.

Fredrick said CHP investigators were being assisted by the National Transportation Safety Board, which sent a team that arrived at the remote Northern California scene Friday morning. Investigators would use  “sophisticated surveying and mapping equipment,” along with 3-D diagramming, to reconstruct the events leading up to the crash, he said.

Fredrick said investigators would also consider roadway and weather conditions. But he and others cautioned that it could take up to six months for the CHP to complete its report.

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