GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A horrific central Florida highway crash that took the lives of two truckers and five Louisiana children in a church van headed for Disney World has jolted a congregation and prompted a call for prayers.
Families gathered Friday at Gainesville-area hospitals caring for the eight injured in Thursday afternoon’s fiery crash on Interstate 75.
Bryan Ross, affiliated with Avoyelles House of Mercy, said the passenger van set off from Marksville that morning. Nine children and three adults — one of them the pastor’s wife — traveled in the vehicle.
According to the Florida Highway Patrol, the van was struck by a tractor-trailer that had made contact with another vehicle and crossed over the median into southbound lanes. The van from the Pentecostal church was struck and overturned multiple times, ejecting some of its occupants.
The agency on Friday released the names of the victims.
The killed children, all from Marksville, were Cierra Bordelan, 9; Brieana Descant, 10; Cara Descant, 13; and Joel Cloud and Jeremiah Warren, both 14.
The two semi-truck drivers who died were Steve Holland, 59, of West Palm Beach, Florida; and Douglas Bolkema, 49, of Albuquerque, New Mexico.
“It’s just a tragedy,” Ross told CNN.
The Louisiana district office for the United Pentecostal Church said on Facebook that Karen Descant, wife of Pastor Descant, suffered multiple injuries. A pregnant woman was stabilized and another women suffered non-serious injuries. Four other children “all have injuries, but the medical staff feel that all of them will heal and recover.”
The post said one of the five children who died was the granddaughter of Rev. Descant.
“Please pray for the healing of those physical injuries. And, perhaps even more so, pray for that church family that has been so massively affected by this tragedy,” said Kevin Cox, superintendent of the church district. “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.”
The crash happened near Gainesville, according to authorities.
The highway patrol said preliminary information indicates that a tractor-trailer and a car traveling northbound on I-75 collided and went through a guardrail, entering the southbound lanes. The truck struck the large passenger van and another semi-truck. A fifth vehicle struck some of the occupants or debris on the roadway, Lt. Patrick Riordan said.
A photo posted by Alachua County Fire Rescue showed a tractor-trailer in flames with a vehicle under it.
Patients transported from the scene have serious and critical injuries, authorities said.
A homicide investigation is underway, Riordan told reporters.