Monday, April 14, 2014
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Five high school students and three chaperones have been confirmed dead after a charter bus heading to Humboldt State University was struck by a FedEx tractor-trailer in Northern California. The bus and big rig drivers were also killed.
Michael Myvett had spent years connecting to autistic children as a therapist, and now was playing chaperone to a different group of youth as he traveled from his Southern California home to Humboldt State, his alma mater.
He was also a proud groom-to-be, traveling with Mattison Haywood, the fiancee he proposed to in Paris at Christmas.
The couple would make it neither to the school nor their wedding, dying in a fiery highway crash instead.
"He was my grandson, the greatest grandson any grandparent could ever have," Myvett's grandmother Debra Loyd told The Associated Press through tears.
Myvett had worked at the Center for Autism and Related Disorders in Torrance for two years.
Operations manager Kyle Farris, one of Myvett's supervisors, said he and another therapist heard about the couple's death on Facebook on Friday morning and were very broken up by the news.
Farris described Myvett as "a child at heart" who loved comic books and video games, fantasized about working as a Disney cartoonist and bonded with his young clients by drawing cartoon characters for them.
"He wanted to help people succeed, and to be a liaison and representative for high school students who wanted to attend Humboldt was in sync with his personality, wanting to facilitate people's achievement of their dreams," Farris said.
Myvett proposed to Haywood outside the Louvre Museum in December. Facebook photos posted by the beaming couple show Haywood teetering on the platform pumps Myvett had asked her to wear while he extended a ring on bended knee.
"That was the love of his life," Farris said.
The bus was driven by Talalelei Lealao-Taiao of Sacramento, according to charter operator Silverado Stages Inc.
The California Department of Motor Vehicles told the Sacramento Bee that Lealao-Taiao, 53, had no history of moving violations, though her license was briefly suspended in 2004 for reasons that were not immediately clear.
Other than an expression of grief, the company declined to comment on their driver, citing the ongoing investigation.
The driver of a FedEx tractor-trailer was a 32-year-old Sacramento native who married his high school sweetheart and had two young daughters.
Tim Evans, of Elk Grove, was among the 10 people killed when the FedEx truck veered into oncoming traffic on Interstate 5 in Orland, according to the Sacramento Bee.
Debbie Otto, the stepmother of Evans' wife, Candice, told the newspaper that her son-in-law was a "kind, caring and unbelievably happy man" who had been driving professionally for several years.
Otto says the family is devastated and wondering what could have caused the fiery collision.
Evans grew up in Sacramento and played several sports at John F. Kennedy High School, Otto said. He helped coach his daughters' soccer and softball teams.
"Tim loved everybody, and everybody loved Tim," Otto said. "We're doing a lot of waiting, a lot of crying and a lot of consoling."
Separated by five minutes at birth and a waiting list as they approached college, 17-year-old identical twins Marisol and Marisa Serrato of Norte Vista High School in Riverside, Calif., found opposite fates as they got on different buses headed for Humboldt.
Marisol, who'd been accepted to the school, arrived without incident Thursday.
There was no word on Marisa, her "baby" sister who was on the school's wait list, for nearly 24 hours before dental records confirmed she was among the dead.
Miguel Serrato said Marisol called their father Friday evening after going to see her sister's body.
"Marisol is devastated," the tearful brother said.
Aunt Dora Gil told The Press-Enterprise newspaper in Riverside that Marisol is burdened with questions about the loss of her sister, including if she could have saved her twin if they were on the same bus.
The girls were inseparable, Gil said. They slept on the same mattresses that lay on the floor of their carpeted room, with purple and salmon-colored walls. They ate from the same plate, went places together. They played guitar and sang at their church, and at least half a dozen college admissions letters are taped to the wall in their room. Now their guitars rest on the side of their white dresser.
"She screams, 'Where are you? I won't be able to live without you!'" Gil said between tears as she sat in the twins' room.
Arthur Arzola, who made it to a hospital burn unit before he was declared dead, was a Humboldt State admissions counselor and newlywed also acting as a chaperone on the trip.
From the wide grin he wears on his biography on the school website while clad in Humboldt's tree-green and the love he expresses for the town's restaurants, you wouldn't know he actually lived and worked 600 miles away, where he sold Southern Californians on the pleasures of going to school in the far north of the state.
A university statement praised Arzola for his passionate commitment to helping low-income and first-generation students get into college.
The University of LaVerne in Southern California said Arzola was a graduate student in educational counseling who had recently married a LaVerne alumna and was set to receive his degree in May.
"Arthur has been described by his colleagues as one with a passion and commitment in helping students reach their academic dreams," University of La Verne President Devorah Lieberman said.
A senior football player at El Monte High School east of Los Angeles, Adrian Castro was considering going to a California state university nearer to home but decided to give faraway Humboldt a chance and a visit.
"He told me two days ago: 'Should I go up and check it out anyway?'" said father Raul Castro, who would see his son for the last time when he dropped him off for the trip Thursday morning.
Later that night, he got a call from Adrian's mother, who had heard from the California Highway Patrol that he had died.
"Adrian Castro will be missed as a student and football player," El Monte football coach Joel Sanchez told the San Gabriel Valley Tribune. "He was a good young man with a bright future. He will always be remembered by the El Monte family."
Jennifer Bonilla was the model student.
"She's one of those students who is bright and shiny and eager and ready to go," Sherlett Hendy Newbill, a teacher at Dorsey High School, told the Los Angeles Times.
Friends said Bonilla was on the bus that crashed. She remained unaccounted for after the crash.
Classmate Melvin Harris, who was asleep when the collision occurred, broke a window to jump out.
"I looked back and I saw a whole bunch of other kids breaking windows and falling on top of each other trying to get out, and I was also trying to look for my friend," he told KCAL-TV in Los Angeles.
Teacher Noah Lippe-Klein told the Times he recently wrote a letter of recommendation for a scholarship that Bonilla won.
He admired Bonilla's "ability to think critically about the world and her profound, college-level writing skills."
Denise Gomez, who played varsity soccer at Animo Inglewood Charter High School, was described as a classroom leader who forged lasting relationships with her teachers. She was president of the Earth Club and editor of the yearbook.
"Denise was an exemplary young lady who valued her opportunities and appreciated those who helped her along the way," said Green Dot Public Schools CEO Marco Petruzzi. "Her teachers, peers, and family could always depend on her, and moreover everyone respected and loved her."
Gomez, a senior, would have been the first in her family to attend college, school officials said.
Ismael Jimenez, a classmate of Gomez's, was an 18-year-old honor student who was looking forward to attending college and pursuing an art career.
"He was admired for his artistic talent and loved by teachers and peers for his big heart, generosity, and quiet humility," Petruzzi said.
In 10th grade, Ismael was accepted into the Ryman Arts Program at Otis College of Art and Design, which he later described as a life-changing experience.
Jimenez would have been the first in his family to go to college, officials said.
Survivors of the crash said Jimenez kicked out a window of the bus as it was filling with smoke.