Seven people killed in car crash near Gainesville


Seven people were killed, including five children, in a deadly fiery crash on the afternoon of Jan. 3 near Gainesville, Fla. Several others were injured.

On Jan. 3, a packed church van full of children from Los Angeles was headed to Disney World on Interstate 75 in Alachua, a city near Gainesville, when a diesel fuel spill sparked a massive fire involving two 18-wheelers, killing five children and the two truck drivers.

The children among the dead were identified as Joel Cloud and Jeremiah Warren, both 14; Cara Descant, 13; Brienna Descant, 10; and Cierra Bordelan, 9. The van’s driver, 45-year-old mother Amy Joffrion, was seriously injured and is in critical condition.

Investigators of the crash determined the series of collisions began about 3:40 p.m., when a tractor-trailer driven by 59-year-old Steve Holland, of West Palm Beach, struck a northbound car driven by Robyn Rattray, 41, of Gainesville.

Seconds after the impact, both vehicles were thrown across the median and into southbound lanes, hitting the van carrying the five kids. The van then rolled over multiple times, having an “unknown number” of passengers fall out. Both trucks caught fire.

The children and their parents were active members of the Avoyelles House of Mercy Pentecostal Church in Marksville, La.

“It’s unbelievable. Everybody is in shock. We lost five of our children,” church member Maxine Doughty said. “We had our Last Supper Sunday, and the pastor said to live our lives like each day is the last day.”

The Descant children were the grandchildren of the Church’s pastor, Eric Descant.

Louisiana’s District United Pentecostal Church International set up a fund for donations for the Marksville Church and families affected by the tragedy.  Contributions and donations can be sent online or by mail: P.O. Box 248, Tioga, LA 71477.