On April 10, 2014, Santiago Calderon was in the last few months of his senior year in high school when he was accepted into Humboldt State University and offered a free trip to tour the school. He said yes, and boarded a charter bus in Los Angeles with over 40 other high school seniors, three Humboldt State chaperones, and the bus driver.
It was supposed to be a 10-12 hour trip. About seven hours in, a FedEx double tractor-trailer truck heading south on the I-5 freeway crossed over the median and crashed into the charter bus, which was northbound on the other side of the highway, head-on. Santiago remembers the bus driver pressing on the brakes to try to avoid the collision.
Santiago stood up and saw that the bus was engulfed in flames. He realized that it was going to explode, and looked for a way out, but couldn’t find one. Santiago recalls “accepting death in those very moments.” Eventually, he saw a kicked-open window and escaped head-first, but not before trying to go to front to see if he could help anyone. “I truly believe I was pulled out by a guardian Angel,” writes Santiago, “because I was ready to help at that moment. Thank God it was daytime, because of smoke instantly filling the bus, I would not have been able to see the window if it was not.”
He landed on his shoulder when he jumped out, but adrenaline caused him to forget about the pain. He saw some other students running to the other side of the highway, so he followed. According to Santiago, “it looked like a war scene. Blood, smoke, and burns were seen on people’s faces. I was in complete shock.” When he turned around and saw three explosions caused by the fire, he remembers having “this instant feeling people were dead. I feel like I’m there as I write this. It’s such a sad, overwhelming feeling, then and now.” 10 innocent lives were taken that day: five high school seniors, all three chaperones, and the drivers of both vehicles involved. “They were such beautiful souls,” writes Santiago, “from the short time I experienced with them. May they forever Rest in Peace.”
Santiago was later reached out to by a member of the Truck Safety Coalition, which he says “helped give me some purpose from such an extreme situation. Thank you so much to all I have met who work for and/or who have some connection to the cause. Having a place to let it all out, have those who understand in some capacity, and now having many I consider family. I can’t thank you all enough. Forever will have a place in my heart!”