Church Van Death Toll Rises
Several members of the Maranatha Seventh-day Adventist Church in Lauderhill, Florida headed to a spiritual retreat at a Haitian religious convention in Tampa never made it to their destination. The trip was tragically cut short when the church van crashed on Interstate 75 on the morning of Saturday, September 14.
The accident occurred in Lee County on I-75 near the Corkscrew exit. A tire blew out causing the driver to lose control and the van to flip on its roof, trapping several passengers. Three northbound lanes and the emergency lane closed for about four hours as emergency crews cleared the scene.
Nostra Damas, 20, died when he was ejected from the van, the Miami Herald reported. Osee Elian, 22, and Gertha Petit-Frere, 62, who were in critical condition, both died Sunday afternoon.
Some of the passengers are still in critical condition at Lee Memorial Hospital where church members continue to gather, and pray for those inside, Wink News, reported. The youngest victim, a 2-year-old girl, Claudine Aveske, is in stable condition at Tampa General Hospital.
“We continue our prayers for the families of the three victims who died and pray for God’s healing on those still recovering from the accident,” the Florida Conference of Seventh-Day Adventists posted on its website.
The church van was one of three carrying a total of 40 members to a one-day meeting for Seventh-day Adventists at a religious convention in Tampa. The two other vans were not involved in the accident.
Investigation is ongoing. The Florida Highway Patrol will try to determine if seat belts were being used.
Only front seat-occupants and those under the age of 18 are required to wear seat belts, under Florida Statute (§ 316.614), but children age 3 and younger are required to be in a child restraint (§ 316.613).
The toddler was not in a child car seat, according to an accident report obtained by CBS Miami.