A small child was among the four people killed early Saturday morning in a fiery bus accident south of Tallahassee. An estimated 25 others were taken to area hospitals with injuries following the Florida bus crash, which was reported at around 5:00 a.m. at the intersection of Woodville Highway and Coastal Highway 98 in Wakulla County.
The bus was carrying more than 30 migrant workers from a farm in Bainbridge, Georgia back to their homes in Belle Glade, Florida when the accident occurred. The bus was one of two transporting workers back to Belle Glade. Reports have indicated that both buses departed from Bainbridge at around 4:00 a.m.
According to local law enforcement officials, 55-year-old bus driver Elie Dupiche was heading southbound on Woodville Highway and did not stop at blinking red light at the intersection with Coastal Highway 98. The 1979 Bluebird bus entered the intersection and slammed into a tractor-trailer driven by 55-year-old Gordon A. Sheets. The bus and the truck immediately caught fire after the impact sent both vehicles into a telephone pole.
The tractor-trailer all but disintegrated in the crash and subsequent fire, leaving just the trailer section and the engine block on the ground. Mr. Sheets was pronounced dead at the scene of the Florida bus crash. His passenger, who has not been identified, was not hurt.
Three passengers aboard the bus lost their lives in the crash, including a young child. According to Florida Highway Patrol officer Jeffrey Bissainthe, a number of bus passengers fled the scene immediately following the accident and have yet to be located. Officer Bissainthe could not definitively state why these passengers ran off, but he did say many lost personal documents in the Florida bus crash and subsequent fire.
As many as 25 others aboard the bus, including Dupiche, were taken to area hospitals with various injuries. Dupiche was released from the hospital on Wednesday, though 11 of the crash victims remain hospitalized. As of Wednesday, two victims remain at Capital Regional Medical Center in good condition. Nine others are being treated at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital, including two who are listed in critical condition, two in serious condition, three in fair condition and two in good condition.
Sources have indicated that the bus was owned by Billy R. Evans Harvesting Incorporated. The company is based in Belle Glade. Numerous calls to the company for a comment on the Florida bus crash were not returned.
‘An Opportunity and a Means of Survival’
Pastor Frantz Gaudard of First Haitian Community Church in Belle Glade says the bus and others like it provide an opportunity for a population of Haitian migrant farmworkers who desperately need the work to survive. Belle Glade has become something of a safe haven for Haitian workers, who Gaudard says work hard and do what they can to provide a better life for themselves and their families.
“They travel from state to state,” says Gaudard, trying to find opportunities for themselves. In many cases, this kind of farm work is their only means of survival. According to Gaudard, he has heard from all but two of the passengers aboard the bus. He is working with officials from the Florida Highway Patrol to notify the families of the victims.
Fatal Florida Bus Crash: Driver Involved in Similar Accident Months Ago
Earlier this year, the bus driver involved in Saturday’s Florida bus crash was involved in a similar crash in Belle Glade, according to a Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office report. Mr. Dupiche was driving a bus full of passengers on January 27, when he was involved in an accident at a four-way intersection with a blinking yellow light.
According to the police report, Mr. Dupiche did not look to the right or left as he entered the intersection. The bus was hit by a pickup truck, which had stopped at a blinking red light then began to proceed into the intersection. The pickup truck driver told authorities that the bus did not stop or slow as it entered the intersection.
The officer’s report of the incident stated that the crash happened because Mr. Dupiche proceeded through the intersection without using caution. The deputy cited the bus driver for a flashing yellow light signal infraction, though Mr. Dupiche was later found not guilty in a bench trial in April.
Charges Pending Investigation of Florida Bus Crash
According to various media sources, charges stemming from the Florida bus crash are pending an investigation. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) will be assisting the Florida Highway Patrol in the investigation. This marks the agency’s third probe of a bus accident involving migrant workers since 2015. A total of six people lost their lives in the other two bus crashes in Arkansas and Virginia.