Authorities said seven people were killed, including five children, when a multi-vehicle crash on I-75 near Gainesville erupted in a massive fire Thursday afternoon.
At a press conference Friday morning, Lt. Patrick Riordan of the Florida Highway Patrol said two tractor-trailers, a passenger car and a large passenger van were involved in the crash. Riordan also said a fifth car struck either some of the occupants that had been ejected or some other debris in the road.
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The children killed were traveling in the passenger van that was carrying a group to Disney World. The van originated from Avoyelles Parish in Louisiana.
Riordan said a tractor trailer and passenger car going north on I-75 collided and subsequently went through the guardrail into the southbound lanes. The vehicles then struck the passenger van and another tractor-trailer traveling in the southbound lanes.
Both the semi-trucks and the passenger car caught on fire, Riordan said. Authorities working to put out the fire on Thursday said 50 gallons of diesel fuel spilled during the crash.
The children killed ranged in age from 8 to teenagers. Both the truck drivers were also killed. At least six to eight others were taken to local hospitals with varying injuries.
One lane on the southbound side of the highway is open and officials hope to reopen the highway completely as soon as possible.
Vinnie DeVita said he was driving south at the time and narrowly escaped the crash – he said it saw it happen in the rearview mirror, immediately behind him, according to a report by WKMG .
“If I had stepped on the brake when I heard the noise, undoubtedly, I would have been in that accident,” DeVita said. “And then within probably 15 to 20 seconds of it all, it exploded. I mean, just a ball of flames.”
Debris including personal property and vehicle parts was scattered across the road, the Florida Highway Patrol said. The fire was so intense that authorities said it damaged parts of the road.
Reporting and writing from The Associated Press was used in this report.
Photo: Flames engulf vehicles after a fiery crash along Interstate 75, Thursday, Jan. 3, 2019, about a mile south of Alachua, near Gainesville, Fla. Highway officials say at least six people have died after a crash and diesel fuel spill sparked a massive fire along the Florida interstate. (WGFL-Gainesville via Associated Press)