From a cramped living room inside the Wilmington home she shares with her two younger siblings and parents, Karen Duarte, 17, of Banning High School pulled out the college acceptance letter she received just a few weeks before.
"I think this is it!" she said with a wide smile on her face. "It says, 'Congratulations. Humboldt State University is please to offer you admission for the Fall 2014 semester.'"
Humboldt State University is Duarte's first - and only - college choice for environmental engineering. While she loves Wilmington, Duarte said, she felt ready to step out from the neighborhood.
"I just want to go out and explore another city than where I grew up," she said. "So I was very excited."
Duarte, a Banning High School senior, boarded a bus April 10 to tour Humboldt State. She was so anxious, she took the first seat she saw.
"I personally like the window seat," Duarte said. "So I saw one, (and) I sat there."
Duarte was just four seats behind the driver.
"I saw the black smoke, I saw the fire, I felt the fire, I felt all the heat, it was like a big cloud of heat that went towards my way," said Duarte, who was asleep when the crash happened. "The only thing I remember hearing was a window (breaking) and that's what made me react."
Duarte jumped out of the window. She has cuts, bruises and a fractured cheekbone. She knows how lucky she is to be alive, especially considering that among the people around her in the front of the bus were the chaperones she had just met that morning. They did not survive the crash.
"All they wanted was for us to be happy," Duarte said of the chaperones. "It looked like they were happy as well that we were going, that we had chosen that school for a reason."
Duarte is the first in her family to go to college and she said this tragedy is not going to change that.
"This thing could have gone totally the opposite way," she said. "I could have not totally been here right now if it was for some other reason. I'm not going to let it put me down."
In an effort to support the students and families suffering from this crash, Sharefest is joining with Los Angeles City Councilman Joe Buscaino to launch the Humboldt Bus Crash Victims Assistance Fund.
Money raised through the fund will assist Duarte's family and other victims and their families through any financial hardships as they heal physically and emotionally from the accident.
You can support the families by donating to the fund at: http://www.Sharefestinc.org/buscrashfund
You can also mail a check made payable to Sharefest. Include “Humboldt Bus Crash Victims Assistance Fund” in the memo line.
Mail checks to:
Sharefest Community Development
3480 Torrance Blvd. #110
Torrance, CA 90503
Councilman Joe Buscaino and Sharefest request the public help promote this fund on social media by posting the web address: http://www.Sharefestinc.org/buscrashfund with the hashtag #buscrashfund.