UPDATE: Victims in crash identified

Local News
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(1/4/19) Officials have released the identities of those who were involved in the fatal crash that took place Thursday in Florida involving Louisiana kids headed to Disney.

The following names were involved in the accident:

FATALITIES:

Steve Holland, 59, West Palm Beach, FL – FATAL (driver of 2018 Semi Truck)

Joel Cloud, M, 14, Marksville, LA – FATAL (van passenger)

Jeremiah Warren, M, 14, Marksville, LA – FATAL (van passenger)

Cierra Bordelan, F, 9, Marksville, LA – FATAL (van passenger)

Cara Descant, F, 13, Marksville, LA – FATAL (van passenger)

Briena Descant, F, 10, Marksville, LA – FATAL (van passenger)

Douglas Bolkema, M, 49, Albuquerque, NM – FATAL (driver of 2nd semi truck)

INJURED:

Robyn Rattray, F, 41, Gainesville, FL (transported to Shands Hospital, driver of 2007 Honda)

Amy Joffiron, F, 45, Mansura, LA (transported to N. Florida Regional, van passenger)

Ali Laborde, F, 30, Marksville, LA (transported to N. Florida Regional, van passenger)

Karen Descant, F, 50, Marksville, LA (transported to Shands, van passenger)

Noah Joffrian, M, 14, Mansura, LA (transported to Shands, van passenger)

Chelsea Laborde, M, 11, Marksville, LA (transported to Shands, van passenger)

Trinity Woodward, F, 9, Hessmer, LA (transported to Shands, van passenger)

Chance Bernard, M, 9, Hessmer, LA (transported to Shands, van passenger)

ALSO INVOLVED

Mark Houghtaling, M, 61, Gainesville, FL (not transported, river of 2006 Chevy Pickup)

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ORIGINAL STORY: 

(1/4/19) Two big rigs and two passenger vehicles collided and spilled diesel fuel across a Florida highway Thursday, sparking a massive fire that killed seven people and injured at least eight others, authorities said.

The wreck happened on southbound Interstate 75 about a mile south of Alachua, near Gainesville. The flames were fed by about 50 gallons of diesel, authorities said.

Authorities initially said six had died but late Thursday night revealed a seventh victim had perished. At least eight others were hospitalized, some with critical injuries, the Gainesville Sun reported.

FHP Lt. Patrick Riordan said early Thursday evening that five of the accident victims who died were in a passenger van, and another person who died was in one of the tractor-trailers.

According to The Town Talk, members of a Marksville church were involved in a fiery Florida interstate crash Thursday afternoon that killed seven and injured others, some critically.

A representative of the Avoyelles House of Mercy confirmed to The Town Talk early Friday that its members were involved, but that was the only information released.

An Alachua County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson told the Gainesville Sun that a group of children headed to Disney World was in the van.

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.”

Emergency crews extinguished the fire and authorities said they were treating the crash as a homicide investigation, but didn’t say why. The fire was so intense that authorities said it damaged parts of the road.

A spokesman for the Florida Highway Patrol told The Associated Press in a phone interview that their top priorities were to conduct a thorough investigation and to identify the deceased victims.

“There’s going to be families that need to be notified that their loves ones have perished,” said Lieutenant Patrick Riordan.

It’s unclear whether the victims were killed in the wreck or whether they burned in the fire, which would make identification more difficult, he said.

The aftermath closed part of the highway in both directions, causing massive delays. Authorities opened the northbound lanes around 8 p.m. but southbound lanes remained closed Friday morning. Debris including personal property and vehicle parts was scattered across the road, the Florida Highway Patrol said. A helicopter helped search for any victims who may have been in nearby woods.

Nicole Towarek was traveling northbound with her family when they came across the scene. She told the Sun that black smoke billowed, people were laid out near vehicles, there were long skid marks across the roadway and emergency workers were converging on the area.

“We kept seeing these little explosions and fire,” she said. “The heat, it was insane.”

It was the worst accident on I-75 in Alachua county since January 2012, when 11 people died in a chain reaction crash attributed to heavy fog and smoke on the roadway, which crosses Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park. Officials were criticized then for not closing the road due to worsening conditions, and later installed cameras, sensors and large electronic signs to help prevent similar crashes.

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