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A bus crash survivor’s truth

2014 bus crash survivor now turned activist, Santiago Calderon shares his story

In 2014, a Spring Preview bus trip filled with many prospective students travling to HSU from southern California was cut short when a Fedex truck collided into it. Five years later, bus crash survivor and activist, Santiago Calderon continues to fight and share his story to save more lives.

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Santiago Calderon holds his cat Henny as they swing on his porch swing. | Photo by Dajonea Robinson

“I escaped to survive. I was pulled out by God, by some entity and landed head first on my shoulder from the charter bus window.”

Santiago Calderon

Calderon went to Oxnard high school located in North Oxnard and graduated in 2014. He is now 22 years young and has a cat named Henny. Calderon played football for 10 years and had plans of continuing his football career in college but, the bus crash changed it all. Calderon said the crash took his life away from him.

“Football was my life, it was everything,” Calderon said. “I escaped to survive. I was pulled out by God, by some entity and landed head first on my shoulder from the charter bus window.”

“I saw death, I saw war, I saw trauma, torment… I saw hell on Earth.”

Santiago Calderon

Calderon said he has vivid flashbacks of the collision. He said the visual of the red Fedex truck crossing the median right before impact, is screwed into his brain. Calderon described that day as the worst day of his life.

“I saw death, I saw war, I saw trauma, torment, I saw hell on Earth,” Calderon said. “That day I accepted death because I didn’t think I was going to make it. I told myself I’m not going to live in fear, to have happy thoughts before I die. I started thinking about my family. The life that I’m losing.”

Calderon said that during the collision he felt everything, and nothing at once. That he felt numb, completely numb. Calderon said that at some points he was so distraught couldn’t believe it and told himself that he was hallucinating.

“I remember asking the paramedics ‘Is this real?’and then I began to cry,” Calderon said. “Part of me died on that bus, I don’t know who I am anymore. I don’t know who I was before. I was broken, shattered in pieces and so much more after the crash.”

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Satiago Calderon’s mother, Corinne Pinon looks off into the distance. | Photo by Dajonea Robinson

Corinne Pinon is Calderon’s mother. She and her family has been Calderon’s backbone since the crash and continues to deal with the after effects that stemmed from the incident. Pinon described Calderon before the accident as a great athlete, a honors student, and a happy carefree kid.

“The therapist said back then he lost his childhood that day, he was only 17,” Pinon said.

“Our family is barely holding on by a string to continue to help him. He is not a happy person. He has survivor’s guilt.”

Corinne Pinon

Pinon said that her family is still healing and learning how to cope from the crash. She said that she’s not sure what’s the right or wrong thing is to do but her family keeps on trying.

“Our family is barely holding on by a string to continue to help him,” Pinon said. “He is not a happy person. He has survivor’s guilt. Like [Calderon] said, it’s easier if he didn’t make because living with this, even for me, his dad and his brother, is pretty unbearable.”

Pinon said Calderon is definitely a different person than he would have been if the crash didn’t happen.

Calderon suffers from mental health issues that stemmed from the crash. He was diagnosed with PTSD and bipolar disorder. He has tried therapy but is now trying PTSD groups and other programs.

Calderon went to HSU for four years and studied psychology to learn how the mind and how people function. Calderon had a psychotic break in May and had to move back home down south from Humboldt County. He described the episode as a very dark moment in his life.

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Calderon said he’s not done recovering. He said the crash lead to PTSD related actions he never thought he’d make. That the crash caused chaos in his head, and the over analyzing of everything.

“I’ll go into a room and I’ll figure out how to get out alive,” Calderon said. “I’ll do everything I can to stay alive. I feel like everywhere I go I’m going to die. That’s a scary feeling, it’s something I learned to live with. Something that has given me such strength and courage.”

Calderon said that he’s in a continuous fight. When he’s low he sometimes has suicidal thoughts, and feels that it’d be easier just to stop but that is not what his God wants.

“I will not be afraid, I have no fear in my heart, I have no fear,” Calderon said. “ I went through hell on earth. I will never stop recovering. How could you be normal after something like that? You can’t. I’ll never be the same person. I lost Santi that day but a new Santi arose a stronger Santi.”

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Angelica Espinoza is a close friend of Santiago Calderon. She is pictured outside of Calderon’s home on a tie swing. | Photo by Dajonea Robinson

Angelica Espinoza is a close friend of Calderon. They have a relationship that heals each other when they’re both down. Espinoza said that they reunited at a good time because they were both in a dark place struggling with depression.

“We just talked about healing, we didn’t talk about the crash,” Espinoza said. “It’s really a brotherly/sisterly bond with a lot of caring and deep conversations. We talk a lot of scripture. We’ve been finding answers through scriptures.”

Calderon received various emails from news agencies after the incident. Calderon said that he came across a message from a man named Harry who is the executive of the Truck Safety Coalition.

Calderon said that Harry’s message was different. The coalition was fighting against unjust policies that would make roads even more dangerous and, that was something Calderon wanted to be apart of.

“A truck is like a moving missile on the highway,” Calderon said. “That was a missile, the bus exploded-the charter bus exploded. What if the ruck was 22 feet longer and went 22 feet more into our bus? More people would have died.”

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Corinne Pinon, Santiago Calderon, and Angelica Espinoza sit on Calderon’s family porch. | Photo by Dajonea Robinson

Every two years the coalition has a conference in Washington D.C. to fight against unjust trucking policies. The coalition educates themselves of the laws and policies that are in the works to better create ideas to stop them.

“We have to prepare for war, because we’re fighting for change. We’re fighting for policies that should never happen. We’re fighting for safety procedures that should happen.”

Santiago Calderon

Calderon said the coalition plans on fighting a good fight. This year Calderon and his truck coalition members will be in Washington D.C. July 13 through 17 for a week of action.

“We have to prepare for war, because we’re fighting for change,” Calderon said. “We’re fighting for policies that should never happen. We’re fighting for safety procedures that should happen.”

Calderon has been apart of the coalition since 2015 and has been striving to save lives ever since.

“I don’t know where I would be if I didn’t have my truck coalition family behind me,” Calderon said. “They are my family. I would be more lost than I am. The coalition makes me feel like I never went through it. To gain such hope, such courage, we’re like any army fighting against injustices.”

Calderon does not plan on giving up and succumbing to the obstacles life throws at him. He feels as though he’s doing godly work.

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Santiago Calderon sits on his porch in southern California. | Photo by Dajonea Robinson

“If I could, I would die for everyone if that meant for everyone to be good. Saving lives is everything I do.”

Santiago Calderon

Calderon wants to be a vessel of God. He wants to let the light shine brighter than it has been before. He feels that he is the light in this world of darkness.

“If I could, I would die for everyone if that meant for everyone to be good,” Calderon said. “Saving lives is everything I do. I want to hear laughter, I want to see joy and people’s pearly whites. I want the injustices to stop. I want people to hear us and see us. I want truck services to care about truck safety and to actually listen. All we’re trying to do is save lives. That’s all we want.”

2 Comments

  1. dawnkinster dawnkinster April 11, 2019

    PS: HUGS. See you soon. You are one very very special man.

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