Five people were killed, including a Long Island man, when an aged bus carrying farmworkers collided with a tractor trailer and both vehicles burst into flames Saturday at a highway intersection in the Florida Panhandle, authorities said.
Authorities said 25 people were injured.
The Blue Bird bus from Georgia was carrying roughly 34 adults and children when it ran a flashing red light and a stop sign before hitting the tractor trailer, then spun around and hit the semi again, authorities said.
“This is a very horrendous crash, I can tell you,” Wakulla County Sheriff Charlie Creel said, calling it one of the worst in several decades in law enforcement.
The driver of the semi-truck, Gordon Sheets, 55 of Copiague, died, and Creel said a young child on the bus was also killed. A passenger in the semi-truck, 21-year-old Rafael Nieves of Sound Beach, was not injured, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.
Creel said the bus, a retired school bus model built in 1979, hit just behind the driver’s door of the semi-truck on first impact and then spun around and hit it again as the vehicles went off the road.
Deputies responded to a gruesome and chaotic scene as the front and the back of the bus was on fire when they arrived.
“Our deputies are heroes . . . our deputies got on the bus and started pulling people off, people that were not able to get off by themselves,” Creel said.
The accident happened on US-98, a highway that follows the Florida coast around the Gulf of Mexico.
Creel said the bus had left Bainbridge in south Georgia not far from the Florida Panhandle area and was bound for Belle Glade, Florida. The bus was headed south on a north-south state road when it collided with the tractor trailer, which was westbound on US-98, the sheriff said.
The driver of the bus, 56-year-old Elie Dupiche of Belle Glade, was hospitalized in critical condition.