Orland Bus Crash Survivor Testifies Before Senate Committee

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The Senate Transportation and Housing Committee held a hearing Tuesday on SB 247 — a bill that would increase safety standards for California charter buses.

Santiago Calderon of Oxnard called it the worst day of his life.

“I look up to the front of the bus, and it’s engulfed in flames,” Calderon said.

On April 10, 2014, he and dozens of high school students from Southern California were riding in a charter bus, on their way to Humboldt State University for a campus tour. But the 12-hour bus ride turned tragic in an instant. A FedEx tractor-trailer jumped Interstate 5 in Orland and slammed into the bus, sparking a fire.

“I was looking for an exit door in the back of the bus. Such as the ones school buses have. And this one didn’t have one,” Calderon said.

The National Transportation Safety Board reviewed the accident and found the FedEx driver was at fault, and the fire was sparked by the dozens of gallons of diesel fuel. However, they also found that there were design elements within the bus that also contributed to unnecessary injuries and deaths.

Calderon made it out, but 39 people were injured and 10 people died that day.

That is the reason 19-year-old Calderon is using his winter break to push for a change.

SB 247 would require all California charter bus drivers to give safety instructions before each trip — similar to the ones flight attendants give to airline passengers. It also requires charter buses to have fewer flammable materials, a second emergency door, push-out windows, and clearly lit exit signs.

Calderon said these safety measures would have saved more lives.

“Out of nowhere, I see this bright light. It was a kicked open window. That’s where a lot of us jumped out. That’s where the survivors jumped out,” Calderon said.

Many behind the bill said it is a “common sense proposal.” But members of the California Bus Association expressed their concerns over the cost and time retrofitting thousands of charter buses.

After an hour discussion, the bill passed the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee. However, it still has a long way to go until it lands on the governor’s desk.

“I want to ensure that we are reasonable, because at the end of the day what I want is to make sure retrofits get done. So, we are going to work with industry with them to ensure they meet the deadlines we set in the legislature,”said the author of the bill, Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens).

Despite the tragedy, Calderon decided to attend Humboldt State University. As a survivor, he said he will do whatever he can to keep this from happening again.

“There were people on the bus who wanted to go to that school. Five high school students at the time were killed. They can’t go to that school. And I can. I’m doing it for them,” Calderon said.

SB 247 is also scheduled to be heard at the Senate Energy Committee meeting Wednesday morning.

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