If you drive about 120 miles northeast of Lake Charles, you will come to the small city of Marksville, the seat of Avoyelles Parish. The area is in shock and grief after a dozen parishioners from the Avoyelles House of Mercy traveling in a church van were in a fiery interstate crash that left seven people dead and eight others injured.
The church group was on its way to Walt Disney World when the van crashed on Interstate 75 in Florida; five of those killed were young passengers in the House of Mercy van, officials said. Their ages ranged from 14 to 9, news sources reported.
“It’s unbelievable. Everybody is in shock. We lost five of our children,” a member of the close-knit Pentecostal church said. “We had our Last Supper Sunday, and the pastor said to live our lives like each day is the last day.”
Five vehicles were in the wreck that began when an 18-wheeler and a sedan collided in the northbound I-75 lanes. The big rig and sedan went through a guardrail and into the southbound lanes, a Highway Patrol officer said, where they collided with the church van and a second tractor-trailer. Those wrecks set off a fire fed by diesel fuel, news outlets reported.
The two truck drivers in the crashes – ages 59 and 49 – were also killed.
The wife of the pastor suffered broken ribs and a broken collarbone. She and her husband lost grandchildren in the violent collisions, the Associated Press said.
Witnesses described a nightmare scene of explosions, thick smoke and fires on the highway.
Four other children survived the crash and are expected to recover from their injuries.
There was no word in the reports we read of who might be at fault for the deadly wrecks.