Officials squelch rumors about Union County crash


Published: Saturday, January 28, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 27, 2006 at 10:56 p.m.
As investigators continued to piece together evidence to learn what caused the Union County crash that killed seven children on Wednesday, families and communities prepared for their goodbyes.
The first memorial was held Friday night, a candlelight vigil at the Raiford church where several of the children had been active. And, emphasizing the scale of the tragedy, funeral services were scheduled that will begin Sunday night and run daily through Thursday.
While officials searched for more clues about the accident, they also spent time squelching rumors related to the case.
Some news reports said the driver of the 2004 Freightliner tractor-trailer that caused the accident had committed suicide. Police confirmed Friday morning that Alvin E. Wilkerson of Jacksonville, the 31-year-old driver, did not try to take his life.
The Florida Highway Patrol said it has not been able to verify information that the unlicensed driver of the car in which the seven children died had dropped off another child before the accident.
"We've heard that rumor, too, but we can't confirm or deny it," said Lt. Mike Burroughs of FHP.
He said he also could not confirm reports that the tractor-trailer's horn was heard just before the crash, as claimed Thursday by one of the injured bus students.
The accident occurred on State Road 121 south of Lake Butler at about 3:40 p.m. Wednesday, and killed seven members of an extended family ranging in age from 20 months to 15 years.
All the dead were in a 1993 Pontiac Bonneville four-door sedan, which was being driven by 15-year-old Cynthia Nicole Mann, who had stopped behind a 1996 International school bus that was letting children off at a bus stop.
Police say Wilkerson failed to stop and crashed into the car, pushing it into the bus and then off the road.
The car caught fire and six of the children died in the blaze. One of the occupants of the car was ejected and died after being pinned beneath the right front wheel of the truck, according to FHP's crash report.
The report said three of the students on the bus were ejected as it was pushed forward more than 150 feet and spun around.
Burroughs said Friday that two and possibly three students had gotten off the bus before the crash. He said they had waved to some of the people in the Pontiac just before impact, and were not injured.
Burroughs said the uninjured bus passengers may be the best witnesses to help investigators piece together the sequence of events.
Late Friday, three children who had been riding the school bus remained hospitalized in serious condition at Shands Children's Hospital at the University of Florida. Two other children who had been taken to Shands at UF have been released.
The driver of the school bus, Lillie Mae Perry-Godbolt, 48, had been transferred to a Gainesville hospital. Carlton Faulk, superintendent of the Union County School District, said Friday evening that he had checked on her earlier Friday, but later in the evening he wasn't able to find out whether she was still in the hospital.
One of FHP's three teams on Friday had completed rechecking most of the measurements at the scene and was centering on inspections of the school bus, car and tractor-trailer.
"We want to make sure that the mechanical features of each vehicle were operating correctly," Burroughs said.
A team from the National Transportation Safety Board is conducting a separate investigation into the accident.
"We will share information and resources with NTSB, but we work independently," Burroughs said. "I have all the confidence in the world that we will be able to depict what happened in this crash."
While determining the cause of the crash continued, its aftermath prompted preparation for memorials and funeral services, and finding ways to cope with incomprehensible loss.
Debby Dyer, the aunt of 14-year-old Ashley Keen who was killed in the accident, said the girl's parents no longer can stay in the Lake Butler area because of their pain.
"They're not going to stay there anymore," said Dyer, who is the sister of Rodney Keen, Ashley's father. "I don't know where they're going, but it won't be the Lake Butler area."
Amanda Scott recently had moved with Ashley and her other daughter, Miranda Finn, 10, from the Hawthorne area to Worthington Springs, about seven miles from Lake Butler. Both daughters died in the crash, which occurred on Miranda's first day at Lake Butler Elementary School.
Scott and Keen, who had been living apart, are back together now, Dyer said.
The biological parents of the youngest child killed in the accident, 20-month-old Anthony Lamb, will not be able to attend his funeral. Both are in jail.
"That was my baby, my little boy," Terisa Sara Johnson, 21, said by phone from the Volusia County Correctional Facility in Daytona Beach. "I loved him so much and I can't believe he's gone from me."
She and her husband, Thomas Lamb, 28, who is serving six years in a Tennessee prison for car theft, lost custody of Anthony - and his nearly 3-year-old brother - in January 2005 after they were arrested for various crimes. Johnson is awaiting transfer to a Florida prison for concurrent one-year terms for a variety of charges, including escape, retail theft and possession of a controlled substance.
Anthony's older brother has been adopted in Nevada, Johnson said.
She said she and her husband had planned to fight to regain custody of Anthony after they got out of prison.
Barbara and Terry Mann became foster parents of Anthony and had plans to adopt him as they had three of their other five children. Some reports said the adoption was to have been finalized on Thursday, but others said the adoption process was to have begun that day.
Steven Murphy, president and chief executive officer of Partnership for Strong Famiies, said he could not confirm or deny anything related to the Anthony Lamb case.
His organization is under contract with Florida's Department of Children and Families to manage the foster care system for this region, he said, and cannot legally comment on such cases.
Sun staff writer Lise Fisher contributed to this report.

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