FT. LAUDERDALE (CBSMiami) — A church van loaded with passengers from the Ft. Lauderdale area crashed on Interstate 75 in Lee County Saturday morning.
One person died and 14 others were injured, including a 2-year-old girl.
Authorities said the church van rolled over when the left rear tire blew out and the driver lost control of the van.
Nostra Damas, 20, of North Lauderdale died after being transported to Lee Memorial Hospital.
The van belonged to Maranatha Seventh-Day Adventist Church in Lauderhill and was one of three travelling to Tampa for a conference when it overturned.
The 15 passengers in the van were church members. Elimane Pierre told CBS4’s Maggie Newland she heard the back tire blow before the crash. “We hear boom the tire and we start rolling rolling rolling,” she said.
Jean Robert Fede saw the crash from behind. He was driving another van from the church and rushed to try to help. “See my shirt, that’s the blood,” he explained, “We got to run up there helping people to free them from the accident.”
Inside the van, passengers were hurt and terrified. Pierre described, “a lot of emotion the screaming the surprise.”
Fifteen people on the van were taken to hospitals, FHP said four were in critical condition including a two-year-old girl.
The family of Nostra Damas, the young man who died in the crash, gathered to grieve at the family home in North Lauderdale.
“Just last night I seen him. I gave him a hug, him and his sister, and now he’s not here,” said his cousin Loutena Cesar.
The family says Nostra’s sister Melinda was in the same van. She had minor injuries, and his father was in the van behind them. The family says Nostra was always smiling and was passionate about his education and his family.
Kendrick Desormes described him as a mentor.
“I called him my brother. He was very obedient. He loved church. He loved school.”
“Everybody loved him,” added Cesar, “He left with memories he left with a lot of memories.”
Nostra’s parents and brother are in Ft. Myers where his sister is being treated.
According to an accident report, the two-year-old girl was not in a child restraint and it is unclear if many of the passengers were wearing seat belts.
The accident report stated the van’s driver and one other passenger used seat belts.
FHP is still investigating whether other safety restraints were being used by passengers.