TAMPA — Ruthie Maynard-Jones was driving behind a passenger van filled with children from a youth sports league on Interstate 275 Sunday when a rear tire blew on the van.
She watched in horror as the driver lost control of the van, sending it crashing into a concrete barrier and then flipping on its side.
"I just prayed to God that it was okay," said Maynard-Jones, vice president of the program that the girls belong to. "I was just thinking of the babies."
The van carried at least 14 people, mostly children, from the Childs Park Rattlers, a youth football and cheerleading organization in St. Petersburg.
The van was part of a caravan carrying parents, coaches and siblings who had accompanied the cheerleaders to a cheering competition in Lakeland that morning.
About 1 p.m., just south of the Lois Avenue exit, the tire blew and the Ford E-250 van hit the concrete wall, causing the van to flip on the passenger side, shattering glass and sending jackets and other personal belongings flying.
Parents and coaches pulled their cars over on the side of the interstate and rushed to the van to assist the screaming and injured girls, whose ages ranged from 8 to 14 years, Maynard-Jones said.
Most of the parents were too shaken up to talk and left for either St. Joseph's Hospital or Tampa General Hospital, where the passengers were taken.
One adult and 13 children were transported to the hospitals, Tampa police said. The injuries ranged from mild to moderate, said Florida Highway Patrol Trooper Chris Wells. It was unclear whether the passengers were wearing seat belts.
"They're doing okay," Maynard-Jones said later. "We're just very thankful."
Dong-Phuong Nguyen can be reached at (813) 909-4613 or email@example.com.