Crash near Lake City kills 2, injures 8, including children

COLUMBIA COUNTY, Fla. -- Two adults are dead and eight others, including children, are hurt after a church van crashed in Columbia County.

It happened around 8:20 a.m. Friday on Interstate 75 at the on-ramp to US Highway 90 outside Lake City.

According to Sgt. Tracy Pace of FHP, the left rear tire of the van blew out and caused the driver to lose control and overturn.

The van, from First Baptist Church in New Port Richey, was headed to a church camp in Georgia.

Sgt. Pace tells FCN when the van overturned, Jeff Novak, 52, and Michalanne Salliotte, 44, were ejected. Both died at the scene. According to FHP, neither were wearing a seat belt.

There were 7 children on board the van, Sgt. Pace said, with ages ranging from 12-16 years old. Two 14-year-old boys were taken to the hospital in critical and serious conditions.

Sgt. Bruce Simmons with Florida Highway Patrol told First Coast News the injured were taken to UF Health in Gainesville and to Lake City Medical Center.

The surviving adult was taken to Lake City Medical Center and is expected to be fine.

Pace said the four other children were taken to Lake City Medical Center and are expected to be fine. The entrance ramp to northbound I-75 from westbound U.S. 90 and two northbound lanes of I-75 were closed for approximately two hours.

Candy Nicely, who works as a cashier at the Shell gas station on U.S. 90 near I-75 where the crash happened, said she saw the immediate aftermath of the crash and got a sinking feeling

"You know. You just knew," she said. "The van was just ... All the windows busted out."

After learning about the deaths in the crash, Nicely said "It broke my heart."

She was also sad to learn that kids were involved in the crash. "Oh those poor kids. It makes you want to cry," she said.

Pace also said that so far in 2014, including this crash, four people have died in Columbia County crashes. Pace said FHP worked 17 deadly crashes in the county in 2013. Police said weather was not a factor in this crash, but, "Only one child was wearing a seat belt in the van," Pace said.

Of the families involved, Nicely said "God bless you. We're praying for you."

Police are in the process of notifying next of kin and names are not yet being released.

The investigation is ongoing.


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