Members of the Independent Haitian Church of Reformation are left devastated after eight of their fellow members were killed and 10 injured when their church van crashed early Monday.
According to NBC, the 15-seat van carrying 18 people back from Fort Myers, FL when it passed through a stop sign at a busy intersection. The van then careened across all lanes of traffic before striking an embankment ditch and stopping in a steep, partially water-filled ditch.
The driver and seven passengers were confirmed dead, while 10 other people, including a 4 year old girl, were taken to four local hospitals in critical condition.
"They didn't see that stop sign. They shot right through it," Glades County Sheriff's Office Chief Deputy Duane Pottorff said. "It was a sad evening."
"That's a very steep embankment, and they kind of did a nosedive," Lt. Gregory S. Bueno of the Highway Patrol added.
According to police, the van was heading back the church in Fort Pierce after a weekend convention in Fort Meyers. The Church pastor Esperant Lexine, 57, was among those injured in the crash. According to his daughter, he had suffered internal bleeding and remains in critical condition.
Grieving members of the church gathered on Monday afternoon to pray and comfort one another, attempting to come to terms with the morning's tragic events.
Philipe Dolce, one of the leaders of the 200-member church, said he went to the crash site Monday morning to comfort those grieving and found out his father-in-law was killed.
"I have to stand up. I have to stand to do what I have to do. I know I lost my loved one that passed away," he said. "I was there trying to be a man. But at the same time, I'm crying too."
Another victim, 48 year old Nozaire Nore, suffered a broken leg in the crash and told the AFP that the driver didn't notice a curve in the road and couldn't stop in time.
"It's heartbreaking" Dina Sarver, a friend of those in the van, told WINK. "Because it is so many of us. You know there are people there at the church waiting, we're two hours away, it was supposed to be a simple go, have fun, come back. It just didn't turn out to be like that."
The Highway Patrol spoke briefly spoke to some survivors and will conduct more in-depth interviews, according to the AFP. A full investigation will assess any mechanical issues with the van, he added.