A packed van carrying a church youth group from Miami to Orlando crashed on Florida’s Turnpike Saturday night, killing an adult woman and sending an unknown number of children to nearby hospitals.
Merlande Chery, 46, of North Miami, was pronounced dead on the scene after the van rolled several times on a stretch of the busy highway when a tire blew about 15 miles north of Yeehaw Junction, according to a report by the Florida Highway Patrol. The report said the driver and 18 surviving passengers traveling with a Miami youth charity were rushed to hospitals after the 7:10 p.m. accident, and Florida Highway Patrol spokeswoman Kim Montes said many of the passengers were minors.
The driver, Willem Camille, 42, suffered serious injuries. Three of the passengers were flown by helicopter to hospitals near the accident site in Kenasville, about an hour south of Orlando. Sixteen passengers went by ambulance, according to the police report.
Few other details were available Sunday evening. Chery was ejected as the 2001 Ford van overturned multiple times after a tire “separation,” typically the tread parting with the wheel, the FHP said. The report said 20 people were inside a van that, according to vehicle specifications, was designed to hold 15.
Media reports said Chery was part of a “mission” trip by the Miami-based charity called GSC Community. Public records show a charity in Miami called GSC Community Involvement, which is focused on youth development and lists an Anslo Chery as a director.
The accident remains under investigation, and Montes said more information should be available Monday.
Information from Miami Herald news partner CBS 4 is included in this report.