A new report prepared by investigators at the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) reveals the driver operating an overloaded church van last year that crashed in rural Florida, killing eight, was under the influence of antihistamines. The agency was not able to definitively say whether he was fatigued because information of his activities in the days leading up to the crash was difficult to obtain.
The tragic auto accident, which occurred in March 2015 at the intersection of State Road 78 and U.S. 27 in Glades County, was the subject of a year-long investigation and a number of changes to the intersection where the crash occurred. The conclusions of the report help to clarify the avenues of financial recovery victims may have.
All the people aboard the bus were from Fort Pierce and belonged to the Independent Haitian Assembly of God Church and were returning from a Palm Sunday celebration with a sister church in Fort Myers.
Local investigators determined early on that the 58-year-old van driver breezed through a stop sign, apparently not seeing it, before tearing across the four-lane highway and careening off the road and nosediving into a steep embankment before landing in a canal. The driver – one of only two people wearing a seat belt in the van – did not survive. Of the 10 who survived, all – including a four-year-old girl – were seriously injured.
There were no other witnesses to the crash. In fact, the only reason help arrived was because one of the passengers was able to stagger to the roadside and flag a passing vehicle to call police.
Investigators also knew fairly quickly that the van was rated for safely carrying 15 people, and yet was carrying 18. A 2004 report by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) revealed car accidents involving these 15-passenger vans were more likely to be deadly due to the risk of rollover. That didn’t happen in this case, but investigators did learn the van was not properly equipped with seat belts, as the law requires.
The driver had an active class B commercial driver’s license good through 2019, had been medically cleared by his doctor per annual state requirements and appeared to be in good health. He was also familiar with this particular route. As far as his driving safety history, he had been cited for speeding three times in his driving history, the most recent in 2010, and he had a citation for careless driving in 2004.
As far as the van itself, there were no notable mechanical problems.
The intersection was equipped with all the legally required signage, though the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) did end up making some changes after the crash, per recommendations made by the NTSB. Those included: A larger stop sign, a flashing “stop ahead” sign, rumble strips and reflective markers along the canal.
As far as liability, it’s tough to know without having in-depth knowledge of all the details, but in general, we can say potential parties in this case might include:
- The estate of the driver/ driver’s insurer
- The church/ church’s insurer (both as owner of the van and employer of the driver)
- Victims’ underinsured motorist (UIM) carrier
In other situations, we might recommend exploring whether the manufacturer could be held liable for a defect and also the government agency responsible for road maintenance, but neither of those appear to have been an issue in this case.
If you have been a victim of a traffic accident, call Chalik & Chalik at (954) 476-1000 or 1 (800) 873-9040.
Fatal Glades County Van Crash Report Released, April 12, 2016, By Michael Braun, News-Press
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