The five children from Louisiana who were killed in a fiery crash on Interstate 75 on Thursday afternoon were just about two hours away from their destination – Disney World in Orlando – when the unthinkable happened.
Suddenly, with no warning, a semi-truck and another vehicle that were heading north on the interstate came crashing through the center median guardrail and into the southbound lanes near Mile Marker 394 in Alachua County. The semi slammed into another tractor-trailer and the passenger van, which was carrying 12 people from the Avoyelles Parish School in Louisiana. Both of the semis burst into flames and the van overturned, ejecting some of the occupants before a southbound pickup drove through the melee and ran over at least one of the van’s passengers, a Florida Highway Patrol report states.
The nine children and three adults in the van were from Avoyelles House of Mercy, the United Pentecostal Church in Marksville, Louisiana. The five killed were identified as:
- Joel Cloud, 14, Marksville, La.;
- Jeremiah Warren, 14, Marksville, La.;
- Cierra Bordelan, 9, Marksville, La.;
- Cara Descant, 13, Marksville, La.; and
- Brieana Descant, 10, Marksville, La.
Seven of the nine people who survived the crash with serious or critical injuries also were in the van. Those included:
- Amy Joffrion, 45, Mansura, La.;
- Ali Laborde, 30, Marksville, La.;
- Karen Descant, 50, Marksville, La.;
- Noah Joffrion, 14, Mansura, La.;
- Chelsea Laborde, 11, Marksville, La.;
- Trinity Woodward, 9, Hessmer, La.; and
- Chance Bernard, 9, Hessmer, La.
The pastor of the Avoyelles House of Mercy, Eric Descant, wasn’t with the group but his wife, Karen, suffered seven broken ribs, a broken collarbone, multiple bruises, cuts, etc. And two of the children who were killed, 13-year-old Cara Descant and 10-year-old Brieana Descant, are believed to be related to the pastor and his wife, possibly grandchildren.
Kevin Cox, superintendent of the Louisiana District of the United Pentecostal Church, said Descant reported that his wife, who was listed in critical condition after the crash, was “pretty banged up.” A pregnant woman who was riding in the van also was “banged up,” but Descant posted on his Facebook page on Friday that reports of her baby being delivered on Thursday night were not true. And the third woman in the van wasn’t as severely injured but is being treated in the Gainesville hospital.
It is unclear if Ali Laborde or Amy Joffrion is the passenger who was pregnant.
Cox said the other four children in the van still are being treated and the medical staff believes that all of them will recover.
“Please pray for the healing of those physical injuries,” Cox said. “And, perhaps even more so, pray for that church family that has been so massively affected by this tragedy.”
Florida Highway Patrol Lt. Patrick Riordan called the crash “a heartbreaking event.” And U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, of Louisiana, labeled it a “devastating tragedy” for the Marksville community, saying his prayers were with everyone at the Avoyelles House of Mercy. And he quoted a church volunteer as saying, “We have lost half of our babies.”
LaMesia Pierce, a member of the church, posted a message from the Louisiana school district Friday afternoon on Facebook saying many people who want to help have contacted them via phone calls, emails and social media. The post said that a fund for monetary donations had been set up to help the families affected and those interested in doing so should go to ladistupc.com or mail checks to P.O. Box 248, Tioga LA, 71477. The post also assured everyone that all donations received would be forwarded to the church and those families hit by the tragedy.
On Friday afternoon, Disney World also released a statement on the crash. Spokeswoman Jacquee Wahler expressed sympathies to the families of the crash victims, saying, “There are no words to convey the sorrow we feel for those involved.
The crash also claimed the lives of 59-year-old Steve Holland, of West Palm Beach; and 49-year-old Douglas Bolkema, of Albuquerque, N.M. Both were driving the semi-trucks that burst into flames. Robyn Rattray, 41, of Gainesville, who was driving a Honda sedan, suffered serious injuries. And 61-year-old Mark Houghtaling, of Gainesville, who was driving the pickup that struck at least one of the van’s occupants, wasn’t injured.
Some southbound lanes of I-75 were damaged in the crash and remain closed. And the incident is still being investigated by FHP troopers.