A multiple-car accident on Interstate 65 in Butler County, Alabama killed nine children and one adult on Saturday. The crash took place during Tropical Depression Claudette and likely began when vehicles hydroplaned on a bridge. This led to a chain reaction of 18 vehicles, including a van owned by the Alabama Sheriff Youth Services that caught fire. Eight children ranging in age from 4 to 17 were in the car along with the one adult who was driving. A bystander was able to pull the driver out of the vehicle but was unable to help the children, all of whom died in the crash. “It was too late to get back to them because the bus was engulfed in fire,” Butler County Coroner Wayne Garlock said. A 29-year-old man and his nine-month-old daughter who were in an SUV also died.
“It was a Horrific Scene,” Butler County Sheriff Danny Bond said. “It was the worst traffic accident I’ve witnessed in my life.” The van carrying the children was from the Tallapoosa County Girls Ranch, which is run by the Alabama Sheriffs Youth Ranches and assists neglected or abused children. They were coming back from a week-long trip to the beach in Gulf Shores. “It is traumatic whenever you pull up on a scene like this knowing that you’re dealing with children,” Bond said. “It’s always worse on your first responders. It was a tough day.”
The van’s driver who was pulled out of the crash was identified as Candice Gulley, director of the Tallapoosa County facility, who is in serious but stable condition. Two of Gulley’s children were in the van. “I’ve never seen a tragedy or heard of a tragedy like this in my entire life,” Michael Smith, CEO of the Alabama Sheriff’s Youth Ranches, said. “I’m still certainly trying to process what’s going on here.” The National Transportation Safety Board is launching an investigation into the crash.
The crash took place as Tropical Depression Claudette moved through the state and was blamed for at least two other deaths. A 24-year-old father and his 3-year-old son died in their home in Tuscaloosa County after a tree fell. “Yesterday was a tragic day for our state,” Gov. Kay Ivey wrote on Twitter. “My heart goes out to the loved ones of all who perished during the storm in Butler & Tuscaloosa counties. Let’s keep these families, communities & first responders lifted in prayer.”