Five people were killed and 25 were injured when a bus carrying farmworkers collided with a tractor trailer causing both vehicles to burst into flames Saturday on a highway in the Panhandle, sheriff’s officials said.
The Blue Bird bus from Georgia was carrying roughly 34 adults and children when it ran a flashing red light before hitting the tractor trailer, then spun around and hit the semi again. One of the bus passengers killed was a small child. The driver of the semi-truck, Gordon Sheets, 55 of Copiague, New York, also died, said Wakulla County Sheriff Charlie Creel.
Deputies responded to a gruesome and chaotic scene as the front and the back of the bus was on fire when they arrived.
“Our deputies are heroes … our deputies got on the bus and started pulling people off, people that were not able to get off by themselves. They pulled out two deceased victims,” said Creel.
He said deputies continued to rescue victims until the bus was fully engulfed in flames and they were forced to stop.
“If these deputies had not done that, we would have had a lot more fatalities,” the sheriff said in a phone interview.
Both vehicles were resting against a power pole with live wires so fire rescue officials had to wait for the power company to shut off the power before it was safe to spray the vehicles with water. Both vehicles eventually burned out, he said.
The Tallahassee Democrat reported the intersection was strewn with bloody medical gear, clothing, pillows and coolers packed with food littered the road. The accident happened on US-98, a highway that follows the Florida coast around the Gulf of Mexico.
No one on the bus spoke English and authorities brought in interpreters, Creel said.
Florida Highway Patrol officials were also investigating the wreck and were in the processing of notifying victims’ family members.
The driver of the bus, 56-year-old Elie Dupiche of Belle Glade, was hospitalized in critical condition. A passenger in the semi-truck, 21-year-old Rafael Nieves of Sound Beach, New York, was not injured, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.