The five children killed in a horror crash heading to Disney World in a church van have been pictured for the first time.
Their photos emerged as it was revealed that the truck driver at the center of Thursday’s crash that killed him, another trucker and the five children received several traffic tickets over the years.
Court records show 59-year-old Steve Holland of West Palm Beach was ticketed between 2000 and 2014 in Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana and Virginia for violations including speeding, driving an unsafe vehicle, driving an overloaded vehicle and not carrying proof of insurance.
Holland was traveling north on Interstate 75 near Gainesville on Thursday when he veered into another car, lost control and went through the center divider, striking the southbound church van that carried the five children and another truck.
The children killed were Joel Cloud, 14, Jeremiah Warren, 14, Cierra Bordelan, 9, Cara Descant, 13, and Briana Descant, 10.
Horrifying footage from the scene showed the huge fire engulfing several vehicles, with flames so intense they damaged parts of the road.
‘Once those semis struck, they both caught fire,’ Louisiana Florida Highway Patrol Lt. Patrick Riordan said.
He said a fifth vehicle came through and either struck people who had been ejected from the vehicle or debris.
Some 50 gallons of diesel spilled, fueling the fire that also damaged the road in some spots.
At least eight people were sent to the hospital with injuries. Two tractor trailers, a van, and a midsize sedan were involved in the mid-afternoon crash.
Vinnie DeVita said he was driving south at the time and narrowly escaped the crash – he said it saw it happen in the rearview mirror, immediately behind him, according to WKMG-TV.
‘If I had stepped on the brake when I heard the noise, undoubtedly, I would have been in that accident,’ DeVita said. ‘And then within probably 15 to 20 seconds of it all, it exploded. I mean, just a ball of flames.’
The aftermath closed part of the highway in both directions, causing massive delays along the busy north-south corridor.
Authorities opened the northbound lanes around 8 pm but all but one southbound lane remained closed Friday morning.
Investigators said they were treating the crash as a homicide investigation.
Nicole Towarek was traveling northbound with her family when they came across the scene.
She told the Gainesville Sun that black smoke billowed, people were laid out near vehicles, there were long skid marks across the roadway and emergency workers were converging on the area.
‘We kept seeing these little explosions and fire,’ she said. ‘The heat, it was insane.’
It was the worst accident on I-75 in Alachua County since January 2012, when 11 people died in a chain reaction crash attributed to heavy fog and smoke on the roadway, which crosses Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park.
Officials have criticized them for not closing the road due to worsening conditions, and later installed cameras, sensors and large electronic signs to help prevent similar crashes.
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