‘Devastating’: Train and car collide in Hillsborough, killing six

All but one person inside the SUV, en route to a child’s birthday party just across the tracks, has died, the sheriff’s office said.
The scene of a fatality collision between a train and vehicle at a railroad crossing in Plant City Saturday, Sept. 23.
The scene of a fatality collision between a train and vehicle at a railroad crossing in Plant City Saturday, Sept. 23. [ Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office ]
Published Sept. 24|Updated Sept. 26

A train collided with an SUV at a railroad crossing marked only by a stop sign in Plant City Saturday evening, killing six people — including three children — and critically injuring another, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.

Related: UPDATE: Family members mourn after train, SUV collide in Hillsborough, killing 6

Five victims were pronounced dead at the scene after being ejected from the SUV, Sheriff Chad Chronister said at a news conference late Saturday. Jose G. Hernandez, who was behind the wheel at the time of the collision, was rushed to Lakeland Regional Health Medical Center, where he died overnight from his injuries.

Only one of the vehicle’s passengers, 23-year-old Guillermo E. Gama III, remains alive. He is in critical condition at Lakeland Regional, the sheriff’s office said Sunday afternoon.

“The word devastating doesn’t even begin to describe the tragedy,” Chronister said in a statement.

Deputies and fire rescue personnel responded around 7 p.m. to the intersection of U.S. Highway 92 and Jim Lefler Circle, which is about 25 miles east of Tampa. The sheriff said the first emergency call came in from an iPhone with crash detection.

First responders pried the driver, Hernandez, and front passenger, Gama, from the mangled 2020 Cadillac Escalade. The men were taken to Lakeland Regional Health Medical Center.

Officials continued to comb the scene, “looking for survivors,” Chronister said, but “only found more people that lost their life from this tragedy.”

On Sunday, officials identified the other victims as: Enedelia Hernandez, 50; Jakub A. Lopez, 17; Alyssa Hernandez, 17; Anaelia Hernandez, 22; and Julian Hernandez, 9.

They included the driver’s wife, three children and two of the children’s friends. They are believed to be local residents who were on their way to a 15th birthday party, known as a quinceanera, at a home just across the railroad tracks, Chronister said.

A witness parked nearby reportedly sounded his horn, trying to alert the SUV driver to not cross the tracks, Chronister said.

A video of the scene reviewed by deputies shows the SUV colliding with the train, then catapulting and flipping several times before landing a distance from the crossing, which does not have gates.

The wreckage left the SUV looking “like a soft drink can that’s been smashed,” the sheriff said.

“I believe that tonight,” he said Saturday, “Hillsborough County lost one of its families.”

Times editor Allison Ross contributed to this report.