ALACHUA, Fla. - Five children were among the seven people who were killed Thursday in a fiery crash on Interstate 75 near Gainesville, the Florida Highway Patrol said.
Seven others were injured in the Alachua crash, FHP said. The crash was reported shortly before 3:45 p.m.
FHP said a tractor-trailer was traveling north on I-75 when it collided with a car. Both vehicles traveled through the guardrail, into the center median and into the south lanes of I-75, FHP said.
The tractor-trailer crashed into a passenger van and another tractor-trailer that were traveling in the south lanes of I-75, FHP said. The tractor-trailer caught fire.
A pickup truck then traveled through the scene, hitting debris and some of the occupants who had been ejected, FHP said.
FHP said that the five children in the passenger van who were killed were members of a Pentecostal church in Louisiana. They were identified as Joel Cloud, 14, Jeremiah Warren, 14; Cierra Bordelan, 9; Cara Descant, 13; and Brieana Descant, 10, each of whom is from Marksville, Louisiana.
Investigators said the following people were also in the van and suffered at least serious injuries: Amy Joffiron, 45, of Mansura, Louisiana; Ali LaBorde, 30, of Marksville, Lousiana; Karen Descant, 50, of Marksville, Louisiana; Noah Joffrion, 14, of Mansura, Louisiana; Chelsea LaBorde, 11, of Marksville, Louisiana; Trinity Woodward, 9, of Hessmer, Louisiana; and Chance Bernard, 9, of Hessmer, Louisiana.
"My information is (the people in the van) were destined for Disney," FHP Lt. Patrick Riordan said.
On Friday, a Walt Disney World spokeswoman released a statement, saying, "There are no words to convey the sorrow we feel for those involved in yesterday’s tragedy. We extend heartfelt condolences to the families and loved ones impacted by this tragic accident."
The two tractor-trailer drivers were killed. They have been identified as Steve Holland, 59, of West Palm Beach, and Douglas Bolkema, 49, of Albuquerque, New Mexico.
The driver of the car, Robyn Rattray, 41, of Gainesville, was seriously injured, troopers said.
Absolutely horrific news of a deadly crash killing 5 children and 2 semi-truck drivers on I75 near #Gainesville. Our prayers are with their families. Thank you to the Florida Highway Patrol, @AlachuaSheriff, and @UFHealth for their quick response.— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) January 4, 2019
Authorities said the fire was ignited after about 50 gallons of diesel spilled onto the highway.
"Anytime you have a truck that's involved and you have that much metal scraping each other, and that type of collision, there's a high probability that you could have a fire, and in fact, that's what happened, " Riordan said.
Watch the FHP news conference below:
Donna Gruosso recorded the fiery scene with her cellphone.
"This was us just wondering what to do. What do we do right now? Do we help? Do we turn around? Do we leave? What do we do?," Gruosso said. "We don't want to create any worse of a problem, and we decided we had to get out of there."
One south lane is open. The south center lane is expected to open midafternoon, but FHP troopers said incoming rain could delays the process.
"There is damage to the roadway, so drivers need to prepare for delays in the area," a news release said.
The north lanes have since reopened.
"The fire started getting bigger and we heard explosions, and we got really scared. You never know how you're going to react when you come upon this," Gruosso said.
The National Transportation Safety Board has been notified, FHP said.
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