Students heard tractor-trailer's horn before fatal crash


An aerial view of a three-vehicle crash on U.S. 1

Doug Finger
Published: Thursday, January 26, 2006 at 6:28 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 26, 2006 at 6:28 p.m.

Students on a stopped school bus heard the blast from a tractor-trailer's horn just before the rig crashed into a car and pushed it into the bus, killing all seven children in the car, an injured student said Thursday afternoon.

"When we were driving, a semi was honking its horn at us," said 11-year-old Dalton Sumner during a news conference Thursday afternoon at Shands at the University of Florida.

The bus stopped and, Dalton said, everyone stood and began moving forward because some of the children aboard were getting off.

"I heard a big bang and then the bus was spinning around," said the boy, who was on the bus with his 12-year-old brother, Cody Vaughn. "Then we hit a tree in the back and we was all injured."

Earlier Thursday, the criminal and driving records of the 31-year-old driver of the Crete Carrier Corp. tractor-trailer started coming to light.

According to police records, the driver, Alvin E. Wilkerson of Jacksonville, was arrested in 1997 in connection with the kidnapping and murder of a toddler. Jacksonville Sheriff's Office charged Wilkerson with being an accessory to a murder after the fact for renting a room in a Jacksonville Motel 8 for Jason Stephens, who was convicted of murdering 3-year-old Robert Sparrow in 1997, according to arrest reports.

Court records show that prosecutors ultimately dropped the charge connecting Wilkerson to the kidnapping and murder.

He also was arrested in 1999 for soliciting prostitution, among other charges. Details of those cases were not available Thursday night.

Wilkerson also has a history of traffic violations, from displaying a revoked or suspended driver's license to speeding, according to Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles records.

Police say Wilkerson on Wednesday failed to stop and crashed into a 1993 Pontiac Bonneville carrying the seven children, who ranged in age from 20 months to 15 years. Lt. Mike Burroughs of the Florida Highway Patrol said troopers estimated Wilkerson's speed at 55 or 60 mph, close to the posted speed limit of 60 mph.

At a noon news conference Thursday in Lake Butler, FHP's Lt. William Leeper said it may be several weeks before charges are filed against Wilkerson. He said officials must await results of toxicology tests and the investigation and consult with the State Attorney's Office before charges can be filed.

The accident occurred on State Road 121 near Lake Butler at about 3:40 p.m. Wednesday, and killed seven members of one family. All the dead were in the Pontiac, which was being driven by 15-year-old Cynthia Nicole Mann, who had stopped behind a school bus that was letting children off at a bus stop.

A few hours later another death in the same family was attributed to the emotional stress caused by the accident.

William Edward Scott, 62, of Hawthorne, the grandfather of some of the children who died, died of a heart attack while at the home of Barbara Mann, one of his two daughters. Barbara Mann is the stepmother or adoptive mother of five of the seven children who were killed.

Union County Under Sheriff Capt. Garry Seay said Scott collapsed about 11:30 p.m. Wednesday or midnight. He was taken to the Lake Butler Hospital Hand Surgery Center, where he was pronounced dead

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