A community's grief

Published: Friday, January 27, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 26, 2006 at 11:01 p.m.
We join our north Florida neighbors in mourning the loss of seven children in Wednesday's accident in Union County.
Wednesday night is church night in Lake Butler, the closely-knit town in rural Union County.
Cynthia Nicole Mann, just 15 and on a learner's permit, was driving her six siblings home from school so they could get ready for church.
What happened next was every parent's worst nightmare: A fiery collision left seven children dead, nine other children and a school bus driver injured, and a community in shock.
All seven young occupants of the automobile are dead, all of them adopted into the same family.
Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family, friends, and neighbors of the youngsters who died after a tractor-trailer apparently slammed into the back of the Mann family's automobile on U.S. 121 and sent it careening into a stopped school bus.
Lake Butler is today awash in grief. Healing will be a long time coming. When death unexpectedly snatches away so many young lives so quickly, loved ones are left to pray, to wonder and to ask questions.
And they deserve all of the answers investigators can give them.
Police are still trying to piece together exactly what happened. They want to know why the truck driver, 31-year-old Alvin Wilkerson, did not appear to stop, or apparently even try to apply his brakes, before slamming into the automobile.
Was it driver fatigue? A moment of deadly inattentiveness? Faulty equipment? Driving too fast? As of this writing, no charges have been filed pending further finding of fact. To its credit, the National Transportation Safety Board had a team of investigators on the scene within hours.
When a heavy truck collides with an automobile, it is invariably the occupants of the lighter vehicle who are most likely to suffer injury or death. We live in a consumer society that is increasingly dependent on fleets of heavy trucks to move goods long distances over highways that, conversely, grow ever more congested with each year.
We join our north Florida neighbors in mourning the deaths of Cynthia Nicole Mann, 15; Elizabeth Mann, 15; Johnny Mann, 13; Heaven Mann, 3; Ashley Keen, 15; Miranda Finn, 10; and Anthony Lamb, 20 months.
Tragedy was visited upon tragedy Wednesday night, when William Scott, grandfather to the children, died of heart failure within hours of learning of the crash.
"Maybe the children aren't really ours," mused Lake Butler Church of Christ Pastor Scott Fisher, on Thursday. "They're God's and he just called them home."

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