The crash happened about 55 kilometers south of Montgomery on Interstate 65 on Saturday after vehicles likely hydroplaned on wet roads, Butler County Coroner Wayne Garlock said. The van, containing children ages 4 to 17, belonged to the Tallapoosa County Girls Ranch, a youth hostel run by the Alabama Sheriffs Association. Michael Smith, CEO of the youth ranch, said the van was returning to the ranch near Camp Hill, northeast of Montgomery, after a week at Gulf Shores beach. It caught fire after the sinking and Candice Gulley, the ranch manager, was the lone survivor of the van – pulled from the flames by a passerby.
Gulley remained hospitalized in Montgomery on Sunday in serious but stable condition. “She will survive her physical injuries,” Smith said. Two of the dead in the van were Gulley’s children, aged 4 and 16. Four others were residents of the ranch and two were guests, Smith said.
Here are the Sunday key messages at 11 a.m. EDT for #Claudette. The system continues to produce heavy rains with possible flash floods over much of the southeastern United States. A few tornadoes are also possible today in parts of Georgia and the Carolinas. https://t.co/tW4KeFW0gB pic.twitter.com/qwMv7aKL5T
“This is the worst tragedy I have been part of in my life,” said Smith, who drove to the ranch on Sunday to speak to the remaining residents, who had returned from Gulf Shores in a separate van and had no not seen the wreckage. .
“Words cannot explain what I saw,” Smith said of the crash site, which he visited on Saturday. “We love these girls like they are our own children. “
The accident also claimed the lives of two other people who were in a separate vehicle. Garlock identified them as Cody Fox, 29, and his nine-month-old daughter, Ariana, both of Marion County, Tenn.
“He was a great guy and he will be truly missed,” said Aaron Sanders, who worked with Fox at the Marion County Emergency Management Agency. He said Fox also ran a spa business with his father and adored his daughter. “He loved her to death and that was his life. “
Several people were also injured.
The National Transportation Safety Board tweeted that it was sending 10 investigators to the area on Sunday to investigate the crash, photos of which showed at least four vehicles set on fire, including two large trucks. He said the investigation would focus on vehicle technologies such as forward collision warning systems, fuel tank integrity and occupant survivability.
Meanwhile, a 24-year-old man and a three-year-old boy were also killed on Saturday when a tree fell on their home just outside the city limits of Tuscaloosa, said Captain Jack Kennedy of the ‘Tuscaloosa Violent Crime Unit. Makayla Ross, a 23-year-old woman from Fort Payne, died on Saturday after her car pulled off the road in a swollen creek, DeKalb County Deputy Coroner Chris Thacker told WHNT-TV.
The deaths came as torrential rains from Tropical Depression Claudette hit northern Alabama and Georgia late Saturday. Up to one foot of rain was reported earlier from Claudette along the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
Flash flood watches were released for eastern Georgia, the southern two-thirds of South Carolina and the coast of North Carolina on Sunday. A tropical storm warning was in effect in North Carolina from Little River Inlet to the town of Duck on the Outer Banks. A tropical storm watch was issued from South Santee River, South Carolina, to Little River Inlet, forecasters said.
WBRC-TV reported that a search effort was also underway for a man who fell into the water during a flash flood in Birmingham. The crews were using boats to search Pebble Creek.
Garlock said the location of the wreckage of several vehicles was “notorious” for hydroplaning, as the northbound freeway descends a hill to a small stream. Traffic on this stretch of I-65 is typically packed with vacationers driving to and from Gulf of Mexico beaches on summer weekends.
“Butler County has had one of the most terrible traffic accidents,” County Sheriff Danny Bond wrote on Facebook.
The Tallapoosa County School System said counselors would be available on Sunday at the 225-student Reeltown High School, where some of the ranch residents were students. Smith said the ranch, which is based on Christianity, would likely have a memorial service later, asking for prayers as he began to cry.
A GoFundMe account has been set up for the Tallapoosa County Girls Ranch to help offset funeral expenses, medical bills for the injured, and counseling for those affected.
Gulley had worked with children for years, starting when she and her husband were parents at the ranch for seven years.
“In those years 74 girls have passed by our house and called us mum and dad,” she told Opelika-Auburn News in August 2019. She said she then became a parent of relief, fundraising and involved. in the community, before she became ranch manager.
“My heart goes out to the loved ones of all who perished,” Alabama Governor Kay Ivey said in a statement.