Five children from a Louisiana church group headed for a Disney World vacation were among the seven killed in a fiery highway crash near Gainesville, Florida, officials said Friday.
The young victims were in a van coming from Avoyelles Parish, Louisiana, when the deadly crash happened on Interstate 75 at about 3:40 p.m. ET on Thursday, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.
The two others killed were both truck drivers, one was a northbound semi and the other one was heading south.
“It’s a heartbreaking event,” FHP Lt. Patrick Riordan told reporters near the crash scene in Alachua County, Florida.
There were 10 to 12 people in the van carrying those kids, according to Riordan.
“It’s pretty bad, in a system as small as us, it hits you hard, it really affects you,” said Dauzat, head of the 5,300-student school system that’s 160 miles northwest of New Orleans.
Three of the dead children were students in the public school system. They were in fourth, fifth and eighth grades, Dauzat said. The public schools in Marksville are still on winter break, with students off from classes until Wednesday.
“You never want to lose any child but I knew all three of these kids personally,” Dauzat said. “All three were outstanding kids. Never in any trouble and outstanding grades.”
The accident unfolded on Thursday afternoon when a tractor-trailer and a passenger vehicle collided in northbound lanes and went through the guardrail into southbound lanes, officials said.
Those vehicles then crashed into another tractor-trailer and two other vehicles that were going south, including a van carrying the kids, authorities said.