Florida authorities investigating a fiery crash near Tallahassee, Fla., Saturday morning said the driver of a bus failed to stop at a flashing red intersection light when it collided with a tractor trailer. The bus crash killed five people and injured at least 18 others.
The repurposed 1979 Bluebird school bus was carrying about 35 migrant Haitian farmworkers from Bainbridge, Ga., south to the coastal community of St. Marks in Wakulla County, Fla., when the crash occurred around 5 a.m.
Despite rumble strips leading to the red light at the intersection of 363 and Coastal Highway 98, the bus continued through without stopping or slowing. A 2005 Freightliner semi-truck traveling west on 98 had a flashing yellow light. The Florida Highway Patrol said skid marks indicate the driver of the truck braked seconds before impact but couldn’t avoid a collision.
The impact killed the truck’s driver, identified as Gordon Sheet, 55, of Copiague, N.Y. Three bus passengers, including a child, were pronounced dead at the scene of the crash and another died later at Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare. Eighteen other people, including the driver of the bus, Elie Dupiche, 56, of Belle Glade, Fla., were injured.
On Tuesday, three people remained in critical condition, three in serious condition, and six in fair condition.
According to the Tallahassee Democrat, workers from a nearby gas station ran to help victims, but their efforts were hampered by pools of water, arcing wires from a fallen electricity pole, and fire that started to consume both vehicles.
Firefighters and sheriff’s deputies who arrived at the scene reportedly started dragging people from the vehicles despite the risks, in what one witness described as a heroic effort.
Wakulla authorities said the crash was the worst the county has ever seen. The burning wreckage completely blocked the intersection, cutting off access to St. Marks on the busy Fourth of July weekend. No other routes to the coast were open.
Florida Highway Patrol Captain Jeffrey Bissainthe told the Tallahassee Democrat that the crash remains under investigation.
“We’re not sure what caused this traffic crash,” Capt. Bissainthe said. “But you need to keep your hands on the wheel, eyes on the road and your mind on driving, so don’t drive distracted and pay attention, especially during this holiday weekend.”