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 on Jan. 4.
The young victims were in a van coming from Marksville in Avoyelles Parish, Louisiana, when the deadly five-vehicle pileup happened on Interstate 75 at about 3:40 p.m. on Jan. 3, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.
The two others killed were both drivers of two semi-trailers, one heading northbound and the other south.
“It’s a heartbreaking event,” Highway Patrol Lt. Patrick Riordan told reporters near the crash scene in Alachua County, Florida.
Among the eight people injured in the accident were four children, ranging in age from 9 to 14 years old, and four adults, the highway patrol said.
There were 10 to 12 people in the van carrying the children who died, according to Riordan.
The van was carrying Pentecostal worshipers from the Avoyelles House of Mercy in Louisiana, on a trip to Walt Disney World, Avoyelles Public Schools Superintendent Blaine Dauzat told NBC News.
Three of the dead children were students in the public school system. They were in fourth, fifth and eighth grades.
The accident unfolded 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 the van carrying the kids. A fifth car, in the southbound lanes, could not avoid the pileup and might have hit victims ejected from their vehicles.
State officials said they’ll examine the condition of guardrails at the scene, and determine if they should have provided more protection.