A San Diego-area high school student who survived Thursday’s deadly tour bus crash in Northern California said he’s happy to be alive and won’t let horrific, tragic ordeal derail his dreams of going to college.
Valhalla High School senior Harley Hoyt, 18, was among the survivors of the bus crash on Interstate 5 near Orland, Calif., that left 10 people dead and 34 injured.
The charter bus – taking Southern California high school students on a weekend trip to Humboldt State University – was carrying nearly 50 people, including chaperones, when it was struck head-on by a FedEx truck. The impact caused the bus to burst into flames as Hoyt, along with others, stumbled to escape the fiery wreckage.
Hoyt was treated for minor injuries in Northern California. On Friday, his parents flew north to pick him up and brought him back home to San Diego.
After landing at the San Diego International Airport, the teenager reflected on just how lucky he is to be among those who survived the fatal crash. He also said he wouldn’t let this second chance at life go to waste.
“I’m glad I’m standing here, able to share my story, and hopefully inspire other kids to never give up on their dreams because I’m not going to let any of this hinder my goals and aspirations of becoming an environmental engineer,” Hoyt told NBC 7. “I’m still going to attend Humboldt State University. I’m not going to let this catastrophe steer me away from that.”
Hoyt said the president of Humboldt State University had reached out to him personally and invited him back up to the college campus at a later time, once he feels better.
The teen said he plans on making that trip sometime soon.
The students traveling on the ill-fated bus Thursday had all been accepted to Humboldt State University and were en route to the campus for a tour and Spring Preview Day event.
On Friday morning, Hoyt recounted those terrifying moments when the bus collided with the FedEx truck.
“I heard everyone screaming. As soon as I look up, the driver slams on the brakes, pulls down the horn and then I was like, ‘Oh my God!’ I saw the FedEx truck come right at us and a split-second later after the driver slammed on the brakes we ran into the FedEx truck head-on,” Hoyt recalled.
“The FedEx truck was on fire; the flames were insane. The windows were blowing up because it was so hot in there. And then, there were large explosions on the bus because it was blowing up and everything was just starting to catch fire,” he added.
Hoyt said the impact from the crash sent him flying forward. When his face slammed into a seat, he bit a hole right through his lip.
Meanwhile, smoke filled the bus. Hoyt said he opened a window to let himself and others out.
“I was all dizzy and shaken up,” he added. "There was an emergency exit window right next to me. I pulled that lever up and kicked that thing open and everyone followed me out that window. When I jumped out I fell, scraped up my hands and stuff, and people fell on top of me."
The high school student described the scene as "utter chaos," with passengers "drenched in blood" and scared, running for safety to the other side of the interstate.
At the airport Friday night, Hoyt praised the driver of the bus for acting quickly on the road and slamming on her brakes in order to avoid an even worse collision.
“It was a freak accident. There’s nothing we could’ve done,” said Hoyt. ”The bus driver did what she could. She saved a lot of people. It’s just sad that people had to see the other side after this catastrophe.”
Hoyt said he felt a sense of security returning home to San Diego. The teen said the tragedy and magnitude of the collision and all of the lives lost is just starting to sink in.
He said seeing FedEx trucks on the road now gives him “shivers” and flashbacks of the horrifying crash.
“I think of the screams, the impact. I’m always going to remember that,” he explained.
Hoyt said the trip on the bus had gone smoothly up until the crash. He said all of the students on board were socializing and playing music – just having fun.
“Everyone on our bus was having a great time. No thoughts – no worries in the world. We were just excited about the trip,” he recalled.
The student said the chaperones on the bus were very nice and did a good job taking care of the group. Hoyt said that one of the victims killed in the crash – Michael Myvett, chaperoning the trip with his fiancée, Mattison Haywood – stood out.
“Michael was the life of the party. He was going around talking to every single person. He didn’t leave anyone out,” recalled Hoyt. “The chaperones were great people. They were so cool; they made me want to go to Humboldt so bad.”
Hoyt said he plans to achieve his goal of attending the university.
He wants to finish college “for all of the kids who died” on that bus.
His father, Hector Hoyt, said he’s grateful to still have his son and watch him go off to college.
“My son made it. We’re very truly blessed by God this time. We’re blessed – that’s all we can say,” Hector told NBC 7 Friday night at the airport. “There’s a mission for this kid. He’s an angel. I’m just glad I have him.”
Between tears, the emotional father thanked first responders for caring for his son and expressed condolences for all of the other victims and their families.
Hoyt will continue to recover at home from his injuries, which include a lot of scrapes, cuts and bruises and a busted lip.
A second San Diego-area student that attends Gompers Preparatory Academy also survived the bus crash, but that student’s name has not been released. He too sustained minor injuries, including a big bump on his eye, according to Hoyt.
Most students aboard the bus were from Los Angeles and Riverside school districts.
The cause of the collision remains under investigaton. The tour bus involved in the crash belonged to
Silverado Stages, a tour bus company based out of San Luis Obispo, Calif.
By Saturday afternoon, seven of the 10 victims of the crash had been identified. They include: Michael Myvette; Mattison Haywood; Adrian Castro; Arthur Arzola; Marisa Serrato; Denise Gomez; Ismael Jimenez.