LAKE BUTLER, Fla. -- A family reeling from the deaths of seven children in a fiery crash on a Florida highway Wednesday afternoon was struck with more tragedy when the children's grandfather suffered a heart attack and died.
The grief may have been too much for 62-year-old Edwin Scott. A pastor of a church that the family attended said their grief is "unbearable."Upon hearing the news that all of his grandchildren were killed when a semi smashed into the family's car that had stopped for a school bus, Scott started feeling sick and vomiting.
The children of both of his daughters were killed.Relatives called an ambulance, but family members believe he died on the way to the hospital.
"We lost my daddy tonight," Barbara Mann said. "He lost all seven of his grandkids and he died, too.
"Five of those who died were the children of Scott's daughter, Barbara, and her husband, Terry Mann. One daughter, 15-year-old Cynthia Nicole, was from Mann's previous marriage and the others -- Elizabeth, 15; Johnny, 13; Heaven, 3; and Anthony, 20 months -- were taken in through the foster care program.
Three had been adopted and Anthony was in the process of being adopted.The other two victims -- Ashley Kenn, 13; and Miranda Finn, 10 -- were children of Scott's other daughter, Mandy.Mandy's family had just moved to the area and the two children were to start school in Union County, Fla., this week.
The children died less than two miles from where they lived. The victims' aunt said they were on their way home from school and were planning to go to Wednesday night church services."It's not describable. A whole chunk of our family is just gone," Tina Mann said. "We're all kind of numb, trying to figure out what happens next."
Investigators were trying to understand why the driver of a truck hit the car from behind, pushing it in to the bus that was carrying nine students.
Everyone in the car was killed Wednesday, including the 15-year-old girl who was driving illegally. Tina Mann said that her niece, who had a learner's permit, had dropped off another child and was taking her siblings home "to get ready to go to church."
"Even though she was an underage driver, it's my understanding she did not cause the accident," Mann said. "The same thing would have happened had there been an adult in the car with her. We'd just have one more death in the family."
Five of the students onboard the bus were taken to University of Florida's Shands Hospital in Gainesville. Three were in serious condition and two were in fair condition, hospital officials said Wednesday night.
The other four were taken to area hospitals. It was believed that they were treated and released, said Lt. Mike Burroughs of the Florida Highway Patrol.
"It was horrible. People were screaming, children were wandering around, two were laying (in) the middle of the road," said Joy Clemins, who lives near the crash site. "It is like they were walking around in a dream."The bus driver, Lillie Mae Perry Godbolt , was transferred to a Gainesville hospital, where she was in stable condition, hospital officials said.
"She's pretty shook up; everybody is," the driver's sister, Eunice Clemons, said."That was her main concern, are the kids alright?" said Godbolt's daughter, Michelle Reeves.
Grief counselors were on hand Thursday to help students deal with the tragedy, said Union County School Superintendent Carlton Faulk. "In a small county you get to know the kids," he said.
"A lot of the administrators and myself actually taught the parents of some of these kids. It's a very close-knit community."Alvin Wilkerson, 31, the truck driver, suffered minor injuries. Burroughs said charges against Wilkerson were pending an investigation."We want to know why he didn't see a big, large school bus," Burroughs said.
He said authorities were looking into whether Wilkerson was possibly talking on his cell phone, if he was tired or if there was a mechanical failure of the truck.Burroughs said a sample of Wilkerson's blood has also been collected to determine his blood-alcohol level.
The speed limit in that stretch of the highway is 60 mph, and the bus was stopped at an approved bus stop."It's a dangerous road -- it's one lane going and one lane coming -- and they fly through here every day," resident Jason Wilson said. "I've lived here about seven years and I've witnessed over half a dozen fatalities out there."The FHP said it would take most of the night to complete its investigation and clear and reopen the road.The National Transportation Safety Board originally planned to visit the crash site, but since the fatalities were not on the bus, they may leave the investigation to local agencies.