Five children from Louisiana and two tractor-trailer truck drivers were killed Thursday when two rigs and two cars collided on a Florida highway, sparking a massive fire from 50 gallons of spilled diesel, authorities said. At least eight people were injured.
The wreck happened on Interstate 75 about a mile south of Alachua, near Gainesville, the Florida Highway Patrol reported.
During a news conference on Friday morning, Lt. Patrick Riordan said a church passenger van was carrying the children from the Avoyelles Parish in Louisiana.
It was not immediately clear what caused the initial accident. Authorities said they were treating the crash as a homicide investigation, but did not elaborate.
State police troopers said a passenger van and a midsize sedan were also involved in the 3:40 p.m. crash, News4Jax reported.
FHP Lt. Patrick Riordan said early Thursday evening that five of the dead were in a passenger van, and one was in a tractor-trailer.
Alachua County Sheriff’s spokesman Art Forgey said dispatch records indicate that the van was heading to Disney World with a group of children, The Gainesville News reports.
Vinnie DeVita said he was driving south at the time and narrowly escaped the crash – he said it saw it happen 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.”
The Alachua County Sherriff’s office tweeted that the crash was in the northbound lanes but that the southbound lanes were closed to keep a route open for first responders, saying it “required all hands on deck” and warning “the closure is going to be lengthy.”
A helicopter landed on scene to search for any victims who may have fled into nearby woods as the fire raged on the highway.
Authorities extinguished the fire, but the aftermath caused a portion of the interstate to be closed in both directions, causing massive delays Thursday evening.
Contributing: Associated Press