Coverage of a fiery bus crash involving Southern California students

Bus Driver Who Died Was Recent Grandmother

10 people died in Thursday's fiery head-on crash on Interstate 5 in Orland, Calif.

By Jason Kandel
|  Tuesday, Apr 15, 2014  |  Updated 6:54 PM PDT
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Victims of Deadly Tour Bus Crash

Talalelei Lealao-Taiao

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The bus driver who died along with nine others in a head-on collision in Northern California was a 53-year-old mother of two who recently had become a grandmother.

Talalelei Taiao died when a FedEx truck slammed into the bus she was driving as it carried high school students to a tour of a college.

She honked, braked and swerved to try to avoid the crash, passengers said.

"She was like, a very, very special girl," Sapina Tofi, a family friend, told NBC's Sacramento affiliate KCRA. "(She was) like a daughter to us. ... Her job was important, and the lives of the people on board -- that's very, very important to her."

Lealao-Taiao had just taken over on a shift in Sacramento after another driver had traveled from Los Angeles, the NTSB said.

The FedEx truck driver veered across the Interstate 5 median, sideswiped a sedan and collided with the bus. Dozens of injured students escaped through windows before the vehicles exploded into flames.

"I thought about (Lealao-Taiao's) kids -- her son and her daughter," Tofi said. "And I know she has a granddaughter.

"Every time when I watch the news and I see the accident, it breaks my heart. And I know that's what her husband is going through with his kids right now."

Lealao-Taiao is survived by two children and one grandson, a relative said.

"She just gave, that's how we know Tala," said family friend Temukisa Faalua. "She was always a giving person. We never know what God has planned for us. We never knew that Tala was (going to) leave this way."

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