It appears three children were wearing seatbelts when they were ejected from a church van in a fiery, Jan. 3 crash that killed seven people on Interstate 75 near Gainesville, according to a report released Wednesday.
The preliminary National Transportation Safety Board report is part of an investigation into the five-vehicle crash with fatalities including five children who were heading to Disney World on a church van from Avoyelles House of Mercy in Marksville, Louisiana. The van’s driver and front seat passenger wore seat belts but weren’t ejected. The van rolled over several times. At least eight other people were injured.
“While seatbelts remain an indispensable safety tool, they are not infallible,” said Jason Levine, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety. “The reality is that in certain rollover circumstances — particularly for large vehicles like passenger vans — seatbelts by themselves are not enough.”
Levine said the addition of “electronic stability control has been such a valuable tool in saving lives.” He added that “increasing truck safety, by use of technology like speed limiters and automatic emergency braking will undoubtedly save lives.”
Investigators said a northbound tractor-trailer crashed into a car and both burst through a guardrail and hit a southbound 18-wheeler and the van. Both big rigs burst into flames, killing the drivers.
The children killed included Joel Cloud and Jeremiah Warren, both 14; Cierra Bordelan, 9; Cara Descant, 13 and Brieana Descant, 10. Truck drivers Steve Holland, 59, of West Palm Beach, Florida, and Douglas Bolkema, 49, of Albuquerque, New Mexico, also died in the crash.
The report says Steve Holland, who was driving the northbound truck, appeared to be operating within the “regulated hours of service.” Both big rig drivers died in the crash.