Crash at Interstate 75 in Alachua County, Gainesville, Florida

On January 3rd, there was a multi-vehicle crash on Interstate 75 near Gainesville, Florida. There were at least eight people injured from this crash and 7 people died. The crash was reported around 3:33pm and it involved two tractor-trailers and a passenger van.

According to FHP Lt. Patrick Riordan, 5 of the victims that died were from the passenger van, and around 59 gallons of diesel fuel was spilled. The injured victims were taken to UF Health Shands Hospital under a trauma alert.

The crash backed up traffic for hours on Interstate 75. A student at Western University, named Nicole Towarek, recalled what she saw by saying, “Black smoke billowed. People were laid out near vehicles, there was long skid marks across the roadway, and emergency workers were just getting to the scene. We kept seeing these little explosions and fire. The heat, it was insane.” A law enforcement helicopter was sent aloft to see if there were any injured victims in the woods, along the crash scene.

The 5 victims from the passenger van were children who were on their way to Disney World according to Riordan. The names were released on January 4th, around 5pm. The children’s names were: Joel Cloud, Jeremiah Warren, Cara Descent, Brieana Descant, and Cierra Bordelan. The van’s driver, Amy Joffrion, was critically injured but survived the crash.

Disney’s spokesperson, Jacquee Wahler, said, “There are no words to convey the sorrow we feel for those involved in yesterday’s tragedy. We extend heartfelt condolences to the families and loved ones impacted by this tragic accident.” There were around 7 other children in the car that were injured and taken to the hospital.

The investigation determined that the collisions started around 3:40pm. The northbound tractor-trailer truck, driven by 59 year old Steve Holland, struck the northbound car, driven by Robyn Rattray. Both of the vehicles flew into the guardrail, across the median, and into the southbound lanes where they had struck the passenger van.

Douglas Bolkema was a passenger in the northbound tractor-trailer truck. A spokesperson for a Florida Department of Transportation stated that it was too soon to say whether the guardrail failed or the impact was too great for the barrier when he was asked about the guardrail.

About a week after the crash, the mother of Jeremiah Warren filed a lawsuit at the Palm Beach County Circuit Court. Attorney Joseph Fred found, as he was investigating Holland and Bolkema, that Steve Holland has been receiving traffic citations since 2003, including speeding and careless driving in: Palm Beach County, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Virginia.

In the lawsuit, Fred blames Holland’s employer, Eagle Express Lines and New Prime Inc., and he is also suing Robyn Rattray. Officials at Eagle Express Lines were not immediately available for comment but had stated on their Facebook page that the company was devastated by the crash and will cooperating fully with investigation. They also stated, “Our thoughts and prayers are with families affected by this incident.”

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