Seven dead after three-vehicle Union County crash


Published: Wednesday, January 25, 2006 at 9:31 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 25, 2006 at 9:31 p.m.

Seven people ranging in age from 21 months to 15 years were killed when a tractor-trailer, a school bus and a car crashed in Union County at about 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.

Killed in the crash were Cynthia Mann, 15, who was driving the car, and passengers, Elizabeth Mann, 15, Johnny Mann, 13, Heaven Mann, 3, Anthony Lamb, 21 months, Ashley Keen, 15, and Miranda Scott, 10, according to Tina Mann, 42, of Lake Butler, a relative. Mann said all the children lived at 14727 SW 85th Trail.

Eight others were transported to area hospitals.

The crash occurred on State Road 121, about three miles south of Lake Butler, near SW 75th Way, according to troopers and the Union County Sheriff's Office.

The driver of the tractor-trailer, who had not been identified, apparently crashed into the rear of the car, which was stopped behind school bus No. 13. The bus, which a neighbor said had it's lights flashing and stop sign out, had stopped at State Road 121 and SW 75th Way when the crash occurred.

The car caught on fire and was pushed into the rear of the bus, said FHP spokesman Lt. Mike Burroughs.

The seven killed were all inside the car. Troopers believe they are all members of the same family who live about a mile north of the crash site.

Troopers, according to preliminary information, believe there was no adult in the green Pontiac, and that a teenager had been driving.

Under state law, a 15-year-old can have a temporary learning permit to drive a vehicle, but to legally operate a vehicle would have to be driving with an adult.

Nine children were on board the bus, troopers said. Three had serious, but non-life-threatening injuries and were taken to various hospitals. The bus was carrying middle and elementary school children, according to officers.

But Burroughs said troopers had conflicting reports about whether the bus was dropping off or picking up children.

The driver of the semi was taken to Shands at Starke and his injuries were not considered serious, Burroughs said.

The bus' driver also had minor injuries, according to troopers.

State Road 121, in the area of the crash, remained blocked late Wednesday, according to troopers.

Ralph Ives, a Shands hospital spokesperson, said eight patients were transported to Shands hospitals after the accident. Seven of the eight are children, ages 5 to 16. Five were at Shands at the University of Florida Wednesday evening. The other three were at Shands in Starke in good condition, Ives said.

None had life-threatening injuries, officials said.

Steve Sheffer, trauma center administrator at Shands Jacksonville, reported that three medical evacuation helicopters were dispatched to the accident scene within 20 minutes after the EMS call was received in Jacksonville. ShandsCair, based at Shands UF, and two TraumaOne helicopters from Shands Jacksonville and Lake City carried three badly injured victims to Shands at UF, a flight of about 10 minutes.

Joyce Clemons, 53, who lives on SW 75th Way, heard the crash.

“Horrible. I knew it was a bad accident,” she said. “I went out the door dialing 911, and there was a little girl pinned at the back of the bus and she was partially through the window. She was halfway in and out of the bus. I told her to just be still. Help was on the way. She was in a daze.”

The bus landed in her driveway against a pine tree, Clemons said.

“There were children wandering around,” Clemons said. The woman found a boy and girl. He was complaining of shoulder pain and she had bumps on her head and was crying for her mother.

Clemons called the scene “horrendous.”

“Parents trying to get to the scene. Rescue personnel trying to get to the scene,” Clemons said.

Clemons said she didn't even realize at first that a third vehicle was involved. It was too badly burned to tell what it was, she said.

The Pontiac landed in woods on the east side of the road, Burroughs said.

“It's mangled metal,” and had been crushed like an accordion by the force of the impact, he said.

Officers were still trying to recover the bodies in the vehicle late Wednesday.

Burroughs identified the tractor-trailer, which was loaded with bottled water, as belonging to the Crete truck line but troopers were trying to contact the business.

Troopers have not found any indication that the driver of the tractor-trailer tried to stop. Based on officers' initial investigation, there was “no sign of braking or attempting to brake at all” by the truck's driver, Burroughs said.

“We can't speculate on anything at this point,” Burroughs said about why the truck didn't stop. Troopers will be investigating the truck's speed in the 60 mph zone as well as if there was any malfunction in the tractor-trailer that may have contributed to the accident.

Burroughs said the semi's cab fell off the vehicle's frame and the front portion of the tires and the frame of the engine compartment caught on fire.

There will be updates on patient condition posted online at Shands.org throughout the night, the Shands spokesman said.

The Union County School Board has set up a phone line to field questions from parents. That number is (386)496-4887. Troopers also have referred calls to (386)496-2045.

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