GAINESVILLE, Fla. - Two adults and five children died Thursday after a crash and diesel fuel spill sparked a massive fire on Interstate 75 near Gainesville, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.
Several others were taken to area hospitals, some with critical injuries.
Troopers said two tractor-trailers, a passenger van and a midsize sedan were involved in the wreck, which happened in the southbound lanes of I-75, about a mile south of Alachua. As of Friday morning, one southbound lane was open to traffic.
Troopers said five of the victims killed in the crash were in the van. The Gainesville Sun reported the van was taking children to Disney World.
Authorities said their top priority was identifying the victims so they can notify their relatives.
The FHP said the fire ignited after about 50 gallons of diesel fuel spilled onto the highway.
Vinnie DeVita said he was driving south at the time.
"If I had stepped on the brake when I heard the noise, undoubtedly, I would have been in that accident," DeVita said.
DeVita said he looked in his rearview mirror and saw the crash, just feet from his vehicle.
"It was so shocking to know that it happened, and then within probably 15 to 20 seconds of it all, it exploded. I mean, just a ball of flames," DeVita said.
DeVita also said that once he drove away from the flames, he took a picture facing north at the crash.
"I had thought something on my car broke, and when I look in the review mirror a second time, I basically saw a top of a semitruck," DeVita said.
All northbound and southbound lanes of I-75 were closed Thursday evening due to a large amount of personal property, vehicle parts and vehicles still on the road, causing a major backup. Northbound lanes reopened hours later.
It was the worst accident on I-75 in Alachua County since January 2012 when 11 people died in a chain-reaction crash attributed to heavy fog and smoke on the roadway, which crosses Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park. Officials were criticized then for not closing the road due to worsening conditions, and later installed cameras, sensors and large electronic signs to help prevent similar crashes.
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