Seven people, five of them children, were killed and at least eight more were injured after two semi-trucks and two vehicles collided in a fiery crash on a Florida highway, authorities said.
The children were heading to Disney World in a church van from Louisiana when a truck and a passenger vehicle collided in the northbound lanes of Interstate 75, continuing across the guardrail and into their and another big rig’s path Thursday, Lt. Patrick Riordan told reporters Friday.
"Once those semis struck, they both caught fire," Riordan said.
A fifth vehicle came through and either struck people who had been ejected from other automobiles or debris, he said. About 50 gallons of diesel fuel spilled during the crash, fueling the fire that spread across the road.
At least eight people were sent to the hospital with injuries.
Vinnie DeVita told WKMG-TV he was driving south and narrowly avoided the crash.
"If I had stepped on the brake when I heard the noise, undoubtedly, I would have been in that accident," DeVita said. "And then within probably 15 to 20 seconds of it all, it exploded. I mean, just a ball of flames."
The crash closed part of the highway in both directions and caused massive delays. It occurred outside Gainesville, about two hours from Disney World.
The van traveling to Disney World was carrying parishioners at the Avoyelles House of Mercy, a Pentecostal Church in Marksville, Louisiana.
Three women, including the wife of the pastor of the church, Sister Karen Descant, and nine children were in the van when the crash occurred, Kevin Cox, the superintendent of the United Pentecostal Church’s Louisiana District, said in a statement.
“Sister Karen Descant has seven broken ribs, a broken collarbone, multiple bruises, cuts,” Cox said.
Pastor Eric Descant was not in the van, but traveled to the hospital to be with those who survived.
Another woman in the van was pregnant, and went into labor after the crash, Descant said.
“They delivered her baby last night, and the baby is going to be OK. She too is pretty banged up,” he said Friday.
The third woman was hospitalized, but was not severely injured.
All four surviving children were injured but are believed to make full recoveries.
The names of the children who died have not been released, but Cox said one of the children was the Descants’ granddaughter.
“Please pray for the healing of those physical injuries,” Cox said. “And, perhaps even more so, pray for that church family that has been so massively affected by this tragedy. Please pray for the families who lost precious children, the other accident victims, all involved in the rescue efforts, and the church family.
"They will need our prayers in the coming weeks and months.”