GLADES COUNTY, Fla. — Eight people were killed and 10 others were injured when the church van they were in crashed into a canal early Monday in Moore Haven, according to reports from WBBH.
The Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) said a preliminary investigation showed that a vehicle carrying 18 people and heading eastbound on SR-78 passed through a stop sign after midnight.
The van, which is affiliated with the Independent Haitian Assembly of God in Fort Pierce, then traveled across all lanes of US-27 and crashed into a steep, partially water-filled canal.
One of the survivors said the driver hit something on the roadway before losing control.
According to FHP, the 2000 Dodge Ram Wagon B3500 Maxi has a standard seat capacity of 15. There were 18 people in the van at the time of the crash.
The van was pulled from the canal and investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board will examine the van’s wreckage for the next few days.
Officials will be examining various safety-related aspects, including driver fatigue, use of seat belts/car seats, as well as the number of passengers in the van at the time, according to Keith Halloway, a spokesperson for NTSB.
The group was headed home from a religious event at Eglise de Dieu la Foi Chretienne (Church of God Christian Faith) in Fort Myers, according to the church’s pastor.
About 100 people gathered at the Independent Haitian Assembly of God in Fort Pierce Monday morning.
One of the survivors, Nicholas Alexis, who was in the second row of the van and suffered leg injuries, said the driver lost control then people fell on top of him and into the water. He managed to flag down a car to call 911.
“I said, ‘I need help! I need help!’ Nobody can help me so keep raising my hand after I fell down,” he explained.
Guy Veillard, the pastor of the church the group was visiting, tells us they were in town for revival, an annual celebration to renew their faith.
“When I heard this happened last night, I was really sad because Pastor Matthew… good friend of me because he is an old friend,” he said “I heard that the driver hit something and he loses balance so after that a lot of people had already been hurt.”
The driver of the van and seven passengers died. Ten other passengers were transported to local hospitals.