FT. LAUDERDALE (CBSMiami) — Three people have now died after a church van loaded with passengers from the Ft. Lauderdale area crashed on Interstate 75 in Lee County Saturday morning.
One person died shortly after the crash. Two others died Sunday, according to the Florida Highway Patrol. A dozen others were injured, including a 2-year-old girl.
The FHP 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 Saturday after being transported to Lee Memorial Hospital. Sunday, church members learned Gertha Petit Frere, 62, and Ose Elian, 22, also died from their injuries.
“It’s devastating, very devastating, to know that two more people died,” said Kendrick Desormes, a friend of two of the victims.
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 area hospitals, four were in critical condition including a two-year-old girl.
The family of Nostra Damas 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.
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.”
The family of Ose Elian says he and Nostra were friends. Elian’s cousin, Djorkaeff Jean-Jacques remembered his cousin as someone who kept everyone around him smiling.
“You sad, he always make you happy,” said Jean-Jaques.
Family members said both Nostra Damas and Ose Elian were students at Broward Community College.
Church members say they are finding comfort in each other and their faith.
FHP continues to investigate whether seat belts or safety restraints were used.
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.