5 Louisiana Children Traveling to Disney World in Church Van Killed in Tragic Crash
A major crash Thursday afternoon on 1-75 in Florida lead to the deaths of at least seven people — including five children — and the injuries of at least eight more, authorities from the Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) tell PEOPLE.
Two semi-trucks and two passenger vehicles — a passenger van and a mid-size sedan — were involved in the wreck, their collision sparking nearly 50 gallons of diesel fuel to catch fire. The accident happened between Gainesville and Alachua Country at around 3:33 p.m. local time, according to authorities.
Authorities confirmed in a Friday morning press conference that among the seven dead, five were children aboard a Marksville, Louisiana, church van heading to Orlando. The Florida Highway Patrol said they believe the van was traveling to Walt Disney World.
A spokesperson for the Avoyelles House of Mercy in Marksville confirms to PEOPLE that their van was involved in the deadly crash.
The other two killed were the adult male drivers of the two semi trucks.
Louisiana Senator Bill Cassidy shared his condolences on Twitter, writing: “A devastating tragedy for the #Marksville community. Our prayers and support are with #Avoyelles House of Mercy Church & everyone affected.”
“A volunteer at the church said, “We have lost half of our babies.” Just heartbreaking. Psalm 34:18.”
One of the semi-trucks was traveling northbound on the highway when it collided with a passenger vehicle, sending both vehicles through the guardrail and into the southbound lanes. The vehicles then collided with the church van and another semi-truck.
A helicopter helped search for victims who may have been in nearby woods after being ejected from the van, which overturned in the collision. Both semi-trucks caught on fire.
The names of those deceased were not immediately released, as the Florida Highway Patrol said during the press conference they have not completed notifying all next of kin.