Florida highway pileup, fire kills five children, two truck drivers

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Saturday, January 5, 2019

A road accident followed by a fire on a Florida highway near Gainesville on Thursday killed five children in a church bus and two truck drivers. One semi truck and a car broke through the center guardrail before colliding with other vehicles; around 50 gallons of diesel fuel, officials said, spilled and ignited.

File photo of Interstate 75 entering Alachua County.
Image: Michael Rivera.

The children were all from Marksville, Louisiana. The Avoyelles House of Mercy, a Pentecostal church, had been travelling 700 miles from Louisiana to Walt Disney World and was within an hour of its destination. One truck driver was from West Palm Beach, Florida, the other from Albuquerque, New Mexico.

The deceased were aged nine, ten, thirteen, two aged fourteen, 49, and 59. At least eight more people were hospitalized.

The accident sequence began, Florida Highway Patrol described, in the northbound lanes of Interstate 75 close to Alachua when the initial collision between the car and truck occurred. After crossing the center divider, the out-of-control vehicles collided with the church bus and a second semi truck in the southbound lanes. The bus overturned, with occupants ejected; a southbound fifth vehicle was unable to prevent itself running through the debris. Reports indicate this vehicle may have struck victims lying on the roadway.

According to eyewitness Vinnie DeVita, "within probably 15 to 20 seconds of it all, it exploded. I mean, just a ball of flames." DeVita narrowly avoided being caught up in the accident. The Alachua Sheriff's Office tweeted the response "required all hands on deck." Authorities stated the road was damaged by the fire's ferocity. Emergency workers have indicated a homicide probe is ongoing.

Cquote1.svg Guardrails can only take so much Cquote2.svg

—Troy Roberts

Another eyewitness, Nicole Towarek, described extensive tire marks and "insane" heat. Florida Department of Transportation official Troy Roberts said yesterday morning the road itself, which is straight in the vicinity, will be examined as part of investigations. He said "Guardrails can only take so much." The guardrail would be examined, Roberts said, to determine if it had performed as designed. The state had lanes closed last night as it worked to repair the damaged surface.

Also investigating is the Florida Highway Patrol, which is attempting to ascertain who, if anyone, is to blame. Meanwhile the National Transportation Safety Board, commonly involved in major highway accident probes, was absent. It is presently unable to operate due to a shutdown of much of the Federal government in a budget dispute; however, its website notes that its operations center is still accepting accident notifications without specifying if this resource is operating 24/7 as it usually does.


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