FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — The church van headed south was packed with children, an hour to go before reaching Walt Disney World after a 700-mile trip from Louisiana.
A semitruck, operated by Prime Inc. of Springfield, Missouri, rumbled nearby.
In Interstate 75’s northbound lanes Thursday afternoon near Gainesville, another semi, this one operated by Eagle Express of Homewood, Illinois, and a car smashed into each other, the Florida Highway Patrol says. The velocity and weight of that now out-of-control semi burst through the metal guardrail, taking the car with it.
The two semis, the van, and the car slammed into each other, diesel fuel leaked and the mass erupted in a fireball.
A fifth car, unable to avoid the chaos, sped through, possibly hitting victims ejected from the vehicles, the highway patrol said. Five of the children, ranging from about 8 to teenagers from a Pentecostal church in Marksville, Louisiana, and the two truck drivers died. At least eight others were injured, some seriously.
CAPTION FOR PHOTO
Flames engulf vehicles after a fiery crash along Interstate 75 Thursday about a mile south of Alachua, near Gainesville, Florida. Highway officials say seven people have died after a crash and diesel fuel spill sparked a massive fire along the Florida interstate. (Associated Press: WGFL-Gainesville)
“It is a heartbreaking event,” Lt. Patrick Riordan said Friday. Identities of the victims have not been released. He did not identify the church involved, but an unnamed volunteer from the Avoyelles House of Mercy church in Marksville and quoted in the Facebook page of U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy said the congregation lost “half of our babies” in the crash.
Church officials did not immediately respond to phone calls.
Riordan said the cause of the initial crash remains under investigation.
The accident occurred on a clear day along a straight, flat stretch of Interstate 75 outside Gainesville, the home of the University of Florida. It is a busy stretch of a highway that connects Florida to the rest of the South, Indiana, Ohio, and Michigan.
Its lanes fill daily with semis carrying produce and goods that barrel among cars, vans, and buses filled with tourists headed to and from Orlando, Tampa, and southern Florida.
Vinnie DeVita said he was driving south and narrowly escaped the crash — he saw it in the rearview mirror, immediately behind him, according to a report by WKMG .
“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.”
Nicole Towarek was traveling northbound with her family when they came across the scene. She told the Gainesville Sun that black smoke billowed, people were laid out near vehicles, there were long skid marks across the roadway and emergency workers were converging on the area.
“We kept seeing these little explosions and fire,” she said. “The heat, it was insane.”
The National Transportation Safety Board would normally send a team to help with the investigation, but cannot because of the federal government shutdown. Riordan said Friday that will not impede the highway patrol’s efforts, which could take months.
Florida Department of Transportation Troy Roberts said the agency is investigating whether the guardrail should have stopped the northbound crash from crossing the highway or whether the crash was too traumatic.
“The guardrails are there to stop as much as they can, but there are some things they cannot,” Roberts said. “Unfortunately, in this case, they did not.”
It was the worst accident on I-75 in Alachua County since January 2012, when 11 people died in a chain reaction crash attributed to heavy fog and smoke on the roadway, which crosses Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park.
Officials were criticized then for not closing the road due to worsening conditions, and later installed cameras, sensors and large electronic signs to help prevent similar crashes.
Big rig loaded with mail crashes in Little Rock; tractor ends up on guard rail
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — The old saying about those who deliver the mail goes something like this: “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”
But Sunday some indecision did.
The Arkansas Department of Transportation posted on its social media site that the driver of a tractor-trailer carrying a load of mail couldn’t decide which ramp to take off Interstate 440 Terminal Interchange with Interstate 30 and ended up striking the guard rail.
The tractor separated from the trailer and wound up hanging partially over the bridge railing.
Officials said one of the tractor’s fuel tanks became dislodged and fell onto Interstate 30 below causing an explosion and fire.
The driver was taken to a hospital, but her condition is unknown.
Traffic was delayed on both I-30 and I-440 which is the main thoroughfare between Little Rock and the Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport.
Colorado DOT kicks off project to install media cable barriers on I-25
DENVER — The Colorado Department of Transportation kicked off a seven-month project in June that aims to install new median cable barriers along Interstate 25 between Pueblo and Colorado Springs as a safety measure to prevent median crossover crashes.
According to an article in the Journal of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, the Colorado agency noted in a June 14 statement that it is using a “multi-phased approach” based on vehicle crash history and traffic volumes to specifically locate the new cable median barriers – part of its Whole System – Whole Safety initiative that takes a systematic approach to safety that includes driving behaviors, the built environment, and operations.
“Improving the safety of Colorado’s transportation network by reducing the rate and severity of crashes and improving safety conditions for travelers is our main goal,” Shoshana Lew, executive director of the Colorado DOT, said in a statement. “The statewide program’s whole system approach is unique in how it brings together all areas of the driving experience, resulting in improved and enhanced safety for motorists.”
The $3.5 million project – expected to be completed by December – will remove any existing barrier structures and replace it with media cable barrier along with “added offset” from the travel lane and flattened median side slopes.
That will continue to eliminate vehicle cross-over crashes, the agency noted, while additionally reducing nuisance hits as the northbound cable barrier can be removed. The net effect will allow better maintenance access, reduced maintenance costs, better traffic flow, and further enhancing safety, Colorado DOT said.
A 68-page study wrapped up last year by the Center for Transportation Research and Education at Iowa State University determined that cable median barriers “significantly” reduce motor vehicle crash fatalities and injuries, though they do lead to an increase in “property-damage only” crashes, according to the collected data examined by the school’s researchers.
That study found that out of the 6,718 median-related crashes it examined over a nine-year period stretching from 2007 to 2015, cable media barrier safety devices reduced fatalities, incapacitating injuries, and non-incapacitating injuries by 68.7, 36.8, and 23.9 percent, respectively.
Love’s opens new facilities in Michigan, Illinois and Pennsylvania
OKLAHOMA CITY — Love’s Travel Stops is now serving customers in three new locations — Bridgeport Charter Township, Michigan; Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania; and Hampshire, Illinois.
The Bridgeport Charter Township location at 6560 Dixie Highway (near Interstate 75 and Exit 144) adds 80 new jobs to Saginaw County and 87 truck parking spaces.
The Slippery Rock stop off Exit 105 and I-79, brings 40 jobs and 48 truck parking spaces.
The third location in Hampshire at 201 Love’s Crossing (near Interstate 90 and U.S. Highway 20), has 177 truck parking spaces and brings 80 jobs.
In total, Love’s is adding 312 truck parking spaces for professional drivers.
“These three locations place us in the perfect spots to serve more customers,” said Tom Love, executive chairman and founder of Love’s. “All are along major interstates that are popular for trade routes and leisure travel. We’re proud to add truck parking in areas where our customers need it.”
The travel stops are open 24/7 and offer many amenities.
More than 12,000 square feet of space, Hardee’s restaurant, 87 truck parking spaces, 87 car parking spaces, eight diesel bays, Speedco location on-site, four RV parking spaces, eight showers, laundry facilities, bean to cup gourmet coffee, brand-name snacks, Mobile to Go Zone with the latest electronics, CAT scale.
More than 10,000 square feet of space, Arby’s restaurant, 177 truck parking spaces, 53 car parking spaces, nine diesel bays, Speedco location on-site, three RV parking spaces, seven showers, laundry facilities, bean to cup gourmet coffee, brand-name snacks, Mobile to Go Zone with the latest electronics, CAT scale.
Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania
More than 10,000 square feet of space, Subway restaurant, 48 truck parking spaces, 60 car parking spaces, seven diesel bays, Love’s Truck Tire Care center, two RV parking spaces, six showers, laundry facilities, bean to cup gourmet coffee, brand-name snacks, Mobile to Go Zone with the latest electronics, CAT scale.
In honor of the grand opening, Love’s will host ribbon cuttings and donate $2,000 to the Bridgeport Historical Society, Northern Butler County Feed My Sheep Food Cupboard in Slippery Rock and Hampshire High School.
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