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Crippled church bus hit in rear by truck; 3 die

Published Sep. 3, 2005

A semitrailer truck hit a disabled church bus early Monday on Florida's Turnpike, killing three people and injuring 16 others from two Baptist churches in Fort Pierce, officials said.

The three dead were all from Fort Pierce, said Lt. Pat Santangelo, spokesman for the Florida Highway Patrol.

One of the four rear tires on the southbound 24-passenger bus had gone flat and the driver reduced speed, possibly intending to pull off at a nearby service plaza, when the vehicle was hit from behind by the truck, Santangelo said.

The truck, carrying 35,000 pounds of frozen yeast, was going between 50 and 70 mph, Santangelo said. The speed limit there is 70. The accident occurred about 75 miles southeast of Orlando near the Fort Drum community.

The truck driver, whose name was not released, told police he drove through a patch of fog just before the crash and didn't see the bus in time, Santangelo said. He was not charged.

The impact threw the bus 35 feet off the road into tall brush and pushed the last three rows of seats toward the front of the bus, Santangelo said. Two of those killed were thrown from the bus.

"The whole back of the vehicle is gone," Santangelo said. "It was a very violent impact."

Eighteen passengers from the Friendship Missionary Baptist Church were on the bus, which was owned by the First Bethel Missionary Baptist Church, said Eldrew Baldwin, a pastor at First Bethel. The bus driver was an employee of First Bethel, Baldwin said. He had no further comment.

The bus was returning to Fort Pierce, about 100 miles southeast of Orlando on Florida's east coast. Santangelo did not know where the church group had been.

Friendship Missionary Baptist Church declined to comment Monday morning.

The fatalities were identified as Sam Williams, 61, and his wife, Yvonne, and fellow passenger Carolyn Hart, Santangelo did not know the ages of the women.

Most of the injured passengers were treated at area hospitals. None of the six admitted had life-threatening injuries.