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A defining moment: West Ranch student describes scene of terror

Posted: April 19, 2014 4:02 p.m.
Updated: April 19, 2014 4:02 p.m.

West Ranch High School senior Steven Clavijo was trying to get some sleep.

He was in the middle of an hours-long bus ride from Los Angeles to Northern California, an arduous trip regardless of the circumstances.

He’d spent many of those hours talking and joking with the other bus passengers, a collection of students from throughout Southern California taking on their way to visit Humboldt State University in Arcata — a remote but pristine town.

Some of those students could end up being his classmates, Clavijo thought.

Then there was a shake.

His eyes sprang open in time to see a too-close truck out the window. The truck crashed into the bus.

Smoke and fire began filling the bus; shouts of alarm mixed with the cacophony of screeching metal.
Another student broke one of the windows — a way out.

Clavijo made his way out of the window, landing roughly on the ground below.

Clavijo was one of the survivors of the April 10 fiery collision between the college-bound bus and a FedEx truck that apparently crossed the freeway median and slammed head-on into the other vehicle near the town of Orland.

More than 30 people were reported injured in the collision; 10 were killed on the bus.

“It really was the most terrifying thing I have ever had to experience,” he said during an interview.

Having extricated himself from the bus, Clavijo ran away from the wreckage, as did the others who made it out.
Then came an explosive roar as both bus and truck were engulfed in flames.

At that moment, Clavijo said, his mind turned not to himself or the injuries he’d sustained, but to those around him.

“I just wanted to make sure everyone else was fine, physically and emotionally,” he said.

He worked to comfort those who were injured.

“If I had any cuts, bruises, I didn’t even think of that,” he said. “I just wanted to help the people as much as I could before the ambulances arrived.”

His mind also turned to his mother, whom he called shortly after the crash.

Ambulances arrived after a time to transport some of the bus passengers to nearby hospitals.

Clavijo was scratched and bruised in the crash but not seriously injured.

For a time, he avoided news coverage of the crash, but eventually he learned the details of what had happened.

“My condolences, my dearest condolences, to the families of the ones that didn’t make it out, unfortunately,” he said. “They have my full support all the way.”

“I just hope that this thing never happens again to anyone else,” he added.

He stayed for a time with family near the crash site.

“I was just so happy to be back with my family, be able to hug them, kiss them, tell them I love them,” he said. “Because at the time I wasn’t so sure if I was going to do that again.”

After some time, Clavijo and his family made their way back down to the Santa Clarita Valley.

Clavijo said the memories of the day are still fresh in his mind, but he finds comfort in talking about it with his parents.

“They would, every night before I go to bed, just help me out, just talk to me, see how I’m feeling, just tell me that everything’s going to be all right,” he said.

His friends, too, have been a saving grace.

“A lot of my friends, they just helped me get through this situation emotionally, and I’m so grateful for them,” he said. “They really helped me out.”

Though the memories of the day linger, Clavijo said, he still plans to attend Humboldt State.

Perhaps the biggest marks left over from the crash are not those that were left on his body, but how the incident has shaped his perspective.

“I’m just really happy to be here — not just here in the building, but to be in this world still,” he said. “I’m just so grateful that I’m still able to breathe, to have emotions, to continue going to school.

“I’m just so grateful for that now.”
On Twitter @LukeMMoney




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