Three headline-making fatal truck accidents occurred in a 15-hour period this week, killing 19 people, though one accident may have been caused by a four-wheeler.
A wreck Jan. 25 killed seven children in Florida. A few hours later in Illinois, a wreck killed two adults and three children, plus the driver of the big rig. The next morning, a wreck killed six people in Texas.
The first accident took place four miles south of Lake Butler, Fla., at 3:40 p.m. Jan. 25, when a truck crashed into a car idling behind an unloading Union County school bus on SR 121, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.
Alvin Wilkerson, a driver for Crete Carrier Corp., was driving at least the speed limit – 60 mph – when he rear-ended the 1993 Pontiac Bonneville carrying the children, ages 15 years to 20 months, police said.
Police said the trucker did not appear to have braked the 2004 Freightliner before it struck the car. The car was pushed into the 1996 International bus, which was knocked 150 feet, spun and struck a tree on the side of the road. Three bus passengers and one car passenger were ejected.
The car caught fire with the children trapped inside. Part of the truck cab also burned.
CNN and other media reported that the seven children included five siblings and two of their cousins and that the children’s grandfather died of a heart attack after learning of the tragedy.
Police speculate that the driver was one of two 15-year-olds in the vehicle and was illegally driving with a learner’s permit.
Jack Peetz, executive vice president and chief operating officer of the Nebraska-based company, said Crete was cooperating with investigators. “Our hearts go out to the families,” Peetz said in a statement.
Nine children on the bus and the bus driver were taken to area hospitals for treatment. Wilkerson was treated and released.
The National Transportation Safety Board and the Florida Highway Patrol were investigating the accident, but no charges had been filed at press time.
In Illinois, two adults and three children died after a flatbed tractor-trailer crossed the median and hit two other trucks and a pickup 6:30 p.m. Jan. 25.
Jimmy Joe Storm, 52, of Union City, Tenn. was southbound on Interstate 57 in Williamson County when his flatbed hit a guardrail and bridge wall and crossed the median, according to state police.
His truck hit the side of another truck, causing it to jackknife into a waterway. Storm’s truck then hit a UPS truck and a pickup head-on.
The 43-year-old pickup driver and his four passengers died, including a 29-year-old woman and three girls ages 8, 10 and 11. The 10-year-old was the woman’s daughter, the two other girls the driver’s children, according to published reports.
Storm himself died in the emergency room. The second truck driver was uninjured, and the UPS driver incurred minor injuries.
Media reports quoted a Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration spokesman that Storm was driving for CRST Malone, based in Alabama.
At 6:05 a.m. Jan. 26, six people died after a Ford F-150 collided with a car hauler two miles north of Falfurrias, Texas, at the intersection of U.S. 281 and CR 405 south of San Antonio.
Officials had not determined the cause of the accident, but the pickup driver may have failed to yield to the big rig, said Lisa Block, spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Public Safety.
The pickup was headed east on CR 405 when it collided with the truck. The Ford was occupied by the driver and 11 passengers, some who might have been riding in the pickup bed. Six were thrown from the pickup, and officials are uncertain who was driving.
Of the pickup occupants, six died, three were in intensive care, and three were treated for broken bones.
The car hauler driver, a Mexican citizen, was not injured, Block said.
Police believe at least some of the Ford’s occupants were illegal immigrants. Federal agents are investigating.