8 dead in Florida church van crash near Lake Okeechobee

by Joni B. Hannigan |

(Reuters/Screen shot)

MOORE HAVEN, Fla. (Christian Examiner) – Eight people were killed and 10 injured when a 15-passenger church van crossed a highway early Monday after running a stop sign. It crashed into a ditch partially full of water west of Lake Okeechobee in Florida.

The van from Independent Haitian Assembly of God in Fort Pierce was returning from Palm Sunday services in Fort Myers, Fla., and the driver and seven passengers are confirmed dead, the Florida Highway Patrol said, according to the Palm Beach Post.

"This is very sad – a tragedy," Phillippe Dorce told the paper. He lost his cousin Lifaite Lochard and father-in-law Volsaint Marsaille in the crash at Glades County, just west of Lake Okeechobee.

The 2000 Dodge Ram Wagon, with a normal capacity of 15 people, was carrying 18 people when it crossed U.S. 27 and landed in a canal, according to USA Today.

"They didn't see that stop sign. They shot right through it," Glades County Sheriff's Office Chief Deputy Duane Pottorff said, according to the (Orlando) Sun Sentinel. "It was a sad evening."

A 4-year-old child is in stable condition at a Fort Myers hospital and at least two other patients are classified as trauma alerts. The condition of the others range from serious to stable – with two unknown – according to Lt. Gregory S. Bueno.

TCPalm.com reported, "one survivor said the driver didn't notice a curve in the road and couldn't stop in time."

About 50 of the church's members gathered outside of the church Monday, the Palm Beach Post reported.

Dazilia Joseph, 80, died in the crash, according to her granddaughter, church member Linda Dolce. She told USA Today Joseph, a mother of 10, arrived from Haiti six years ago.

"She loved singing and helping people," Dolce said. "She was exciting; She was the best lady to us."