TRUCK HITS CAR, BUS --- SEVEN KIDS KILLED
Lake Butler, FL -- A big-rig crashed into a car and pushed it into a school bus, killing all seven children in the car, and injuring the driver and students on the bus. The crash occurred around 3:30 p.m. on state Road 121, four miles south of Lake Butler. All seven of the kids were from the same extended family. Four siblings, two cousins and an infant who was in the process of being adopted into the family.
The bus ended up a few hundred feet down the road and the truck and car ended up out in the woods. At least one of the kids in the car was ejected and ended up dying under the front wheel of the truck. The rest of the kids died in the car as it burst into flames. Their bodies were charred beyond recognition.
Upon receiving the news of the death of his grandchildren, William Edwin Scott, 70, of Hawthorne suffered a major heart attack and expired. Just before he died, he was reported to have said to his pastor that he was "hurting all over" and that he thought that he was "not going to make it."
Lt. Mike Burroughs of the Florida Highway Patrol said troopers estimated the big-rig's speed at 55 or 60 mph, close to the posted speed limit of 60 mph.
"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 everyone stood up 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."
FHP Lt. Mike Burroughs said the dead were all related and ranged in age from 20 months to 15 years. It was unclear why there was no one of legal driving age in the car.
The seven children in the car died less than two miles away from where they lived.
The victims' aunt said they were on their way home from school and were planning to go to Wednesday night church services.
In addition to the dead, three people were seriously injured and several others hurt. Air ambulances were launched from Jacksonville and Lake City, taking patients to various trauma centers.
According to authorities at Shands-Gainsville, eight patients were transported to Shands HealthCare hospitals -- seven of them children.
Two of five people at Shands-Gainesville were in critical condition.
The driver of the tractor-trailer, Alvin Wilkerson, 31, of Jacksonville, was reported in good condition at Shands in Starke. He worked for Crete Carrier, based in Lincoln, Neb.
"It's not describable. A whole chunk of our family is just gone," relative Tina Mann said. "We're all kind of numb, trying to figure out what happens next."
The bus driver, Lillie Mae Godbolt, along with two students on her bus, were being treated at Lake Butler Hospital.
"She's pretty shook up; everybody is," the driver's sister, Eunice Clemons, said.
"That was her main concern, are the kids alright?" said Godbolt's daughter, Michelle Reeves.
Both Union County Sheriff Jerry Whitehead and FHP Lt. Bill Leeper said this was the most gruesome crash they'd ever seen.
Evidence from the scene showed that the TRUCK DID NOT BRAKE, according to the FHP. THE DRIVER COULD FACE CHARGES including, but not limited to MULTIPLE COUNTS OF VEHICULAR HOMICIDE. The National Transportation Safety Board was also sending a team to investigate the crash.
School officials said that the students on the bus were from the county's elementary and middle schools.
Parents and relatives heard about the crash rushed to the scene, providing an additional challenge for police and rescuers.
"They were still, at that time, extremely upset. But we got some neighbors and some of the staff -- school staff -- got here," Whitehead said. "We got people with each one of them and got 'em calmed down. Actually, the students handled it very well, I thought."
The county set up a special phone line for parents needing information: (386) 496-4887. Officials said grief counselors would be at all three county schools Thursday to help students deal with the tragedy.