Five children were killed in a multi-vehicle collision and fire in northern Florida last Thursday, January 4, 2019. Two commercial truck drivers were also killed in the wreck, and at least eight victims were transported to local hospitals. The children were reportedly traveling in a church van bound from Louisiana to Disney World.
According to authorities from the Florida Highway Patrol, the incident occurred Thursday afternoon on Interstate 75, roughly a mile south of Alachua, near the city of Gainesville. Two passenger vehicles and two commercial tractor-trailers were involved in the wreck, which caused 50 gallons of diesel fuel in one of the trucks to spill onto the highway and ignite a massive fire.
Several victims, some critically injured, were transported for further medical attention to two area hospitals. Officials also confirmed the death of seven victims, including five children ranging from ages 9 to 14 who were traveling in a church van from United Pentecostal Church in Marksville, Louisiana for a trip to Disney World. The two truck drivers were also killed in the wreck.
Investigators Take A Closer Look Into Trucker’s Driving Record
While investigations are still ongoing, officials have reported that the incident appears to have been caused when a tractor-trailer – driven by 59-year-old Steve Holland – traveling north in the right lane of the I-75 suddenly veered left and collided with a passenger vehicle. The collision sent the car and tractor-trailer careening over the center divider, where the truck plowed into the southbound church van and sent it flipping several times, ejecting some of the nine children on board before colliding with another truck and the passenger vehicle. A fire erupted soon erupted.
After extinguishing the blaze and transporting victims, officials announced they were treating the crash as a homicide investigation, but have not commented further as to why. In the days following the wreck, court records for the 59-year-old trucker who may have set the fatal chain reaction into motion indicate had had received several traffic tickets over the years, including several citations dating back to 2000 for violations ranging from speeding and not carrying proof of insurance to operating an unsafe vehicle and driving and overloaded vehicle.
Truck Accident Investigations & Victims’ Rights
As evidenced by this terrible tragedy, auto accidents involving tractor-trailers and commercial vehicles make for some of the most devastating crashes on our roads. Though the incident is still under investigation, revelations involving the trucker’s driving history can potentially provide direction into what caused the wreck – and whether it could and should have been prevented.
Ultimately, commercial truckers and the commercial trucking companies that employ them have legal obligations when it comes to reducing risks posed by their massive and monstrously dangerous machines, and for complying with various trucking regulations. In truck accident cases like these, exploring whether truckers and trucking operators failed to uphold those obligations becomes critical to the victims who seek accountability and justice for preventable losses.
Examples of violations and negligent acts investigators may be looking for include:
- The trucker’s driving history and commercial driver’s license status, including proper licensing and training.
- Whether the trucking company was negligent in the hiring or retention of a potentially unsafe driver or oversight of a safe fleet, or if truck driver negligence played a role.
- Whether there were regulatory violations involved, including violations of federal trucking laws regarding vehicle weight restrictions, cargo securement, vehicle maintenance, and more.
- Whether the trucker was fatigued (or in violation of hours-of-service rules), distracted or using a cell phone, or impaired by drugs or alcohol at the time of the crash.
Tragedies like these demand answers, and investigations conducted by authorities may very well yield some, in addition to potential criminal charges against the responsible party (the crash in this particular case is being treated as a homicide investigation). However, victims need to remember that even if charges are to be filed against a party who allegedly caused a crash, that case would be criminal in nature, and therefore not a viable source of compensation for the damages they suffered.
In order to seek justice and full compensation following preventable injuries or wrongful death, victims and families need to assert their rights in the civil justice system, which focuses on a defendant’s financial responsibility for victims’ damages rather than their criminal guilt, uses a lower burden of proof than what is used in criminal cases, and provides the most appropriate pathway toward a full and fair financial recovery.
In Pursuit of Justice: Civil Lawsuits Spearheaded by Proven Trial Lawyers
At Aldous \ Walker, our team has staked our claim in guiding clients through the civil personal injury and wrongful death process – and knows the experience and tenacity of proven trial attorneys can make all the difference when it comes to helping victims prevail.
Having cultivated a national reputation for our civil trial practice and our work handling cases across the country involving catastrophic injuries, commercial vehicle and truck accidents, wrongful death, and other complex matters, our firm is always available to help victims and families learn more about their rights and what our award-winning lawyers can do to help. If you have questions about a potential case, contact us to speak with an attorney.