MOORE HAVEN, Fla. – A church van ran through a stop sign, crossed all four lanes of a rural highway and nosedived into a canal, killing eight people and injuring 10 early Monday in southwest Florida, authorities said.
The crash happened around 12:30 a.m. Monday in Glades County at an intersection. Glades County is west of Lake Okeechobee and about 80 miles from West Palm Beach.
“They didn’t see that stop sign. They shot right through it,” Glades County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Duane Pottorff said. “It was a sad evening.”
The van was heading back to a church in Fort Pierce after a weekend convention in Fort Meyers, according to the Florida Highway Patrol. The church has about 200 members in its congregation.
Eighteen people were in the van when it crashed, said Lt. Gregory S. Bueno of the Highway Patrol. The 2000 Dodge Ram Wagon B3500 Maxi has a standard capacity of 15 seats, FHP said.
A 911 call came in at 12:31 a.m., and deputies arrived four minutes later, officials said. The van had gone down an eight-to-10 foot embankment and landed in shallow water of the canal, which is lined with tall grass and weeds.
“That’s a very steep embankment, and they kind of did a nosedive,” Bueno said.
The crashed killed the male driver and seven passengers, four male and three female, troopers said.
The Florida Highway Patrol identified 10 other passengers taken to four hospitals. Among them was a 4-year-old child – who was not in a car seat, Bueno said – in serious condition, and four other adults were in critical condition.
All the people in the van were from Fort Pierce.
Laura Lachman woke up to a call from her sister this morning. Her uncle was one of those killed.
“She was screaming ‘my uncle’s gone’ and I was like ‘what do you mean my uncle’s gone?’ She said the church bus was coming back from Fort Myers and got into an accident,” Lachman said.
Nozaire Nore, 48, suffered a broken leg in the crash. With his niece translating from Haitian Creole, Nore told Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers that the driver didn’t notice a curve in the road and couldn’t stop in time.
Nore said he is a migrant farm laborer who travels to New Jersey and New York to pick apples, watermelons and other crops.
Bueno said that at the time of the crash, it wasn’t foggy at the crash scene in Glades County, west of Lake Okeechobee. The T-intersection is surrounded by farmland.
On Monday morning, the van – with “Independent Haitian Church of Reformation” written on its side – had been loaded onto the back of a flatbed truck. The front of the van was smashed in, and the door had been removed.
A message left for the pastor of Independent Haitian Assembly of God, Esperant Lexine, was not immediately returned.
Philipe Dolce is a leader at the church. He went to the crash site this morning and found out his father-in-law was killed. “I have to stand up. I have to stand to do what I have to do. I know I lost my loved one that passed away.”
Under Florida law, a Class C commercial driver’s license is required to drive any vehicle designed to transport 16 or more people, including the driver.
The Florida Highway Patrol identified the deceased as:
* Volsaint Marsaille, 58, of Fort Pierce
* Judge Petit-Frere, 66, of Fort Pierce
* Obernise Petit-Frere, 58, of Fort Pierce
* Lifaite Lochard, 58, of Fort Pierce
* Madeleine William, 53, of Fort Pierce
* Wanie Larose, 60, of Fort Pierce
* Dazilla Joseph, 79, of Fort Pierce
* Servilus Dieudonne, 71, of Fort Pierce
The Florida Highway Patrol identified the injured as:
* Jose Zimero, 26, of Fort Pierce in serious condition
* Clodette Fleurvil, 44, of Fort Pierce in critical condition
* Innoncent Roseme, 89, of Fort Pierce in critical condition
* Jean Rafael, 73, of Fort Pierce in serious condition
* Nozaire Nore, 48, of Fort Pierce; minor injuries
* Nicholas Alexis, 57, of Fort Pierce; minor injuries
* Esperant Lexine, 57, of Fort Pierce in critical condition
* Macaty Jean Jacques, 53, of Fort Pierce in fair condition
* Marilia Dieudonne, 65, of Fort Pierce in serious condition
* Faeyana Desirus, 4, of Fort Pierce; discharged from the hospital