HYATTSVILLE, Md. (AP) — A church van carrying adults and children through a suburb of the nation’s capital collided with a pickup truck that crossed into its path, and the pickup truck burst into flames in an accident that claimed four lives and left 14 others badly injured, authorities said.
A child was among the dead Sunday, and authorities said the conditions of survivors ranged from fair to critical in the Maryland community of Hyattsville just northeast of Washington, D.C.
The crash occurred on a busy, four-lane road with a double-yellow line and no dividing barriers, in front of a two-story brick house with three cars parked in front. Charred debris was strewn on the sidewalk, along the curb and in the small front yard of the house, less than 20 feet from the front door. A man who answered the door at the home declined to comment Monday morning.
Five children were being treated at Children’s National Medical Center, and spokeswoman Emily Hartman said Monday morning that three were in fair condition and two were in critical condition. Eight adults were taken to MedStar Washington Hospital Center, but a spokeswoman said their conditions were not available.
Witnesses say people ran with fire extinguishers from their homes but could do little to put out tall flames that rose above the pickup truck before firefighters arrived and put out the blaze. Authorities said the fire was kept to the pickup truck, whose driver died along with two adults and a child in the van.
Fire department spokesman Mark Brady in Maryland’s Prince George’s County called the crash scene and the numbers of victims, including children, one of the worst in his 40-year career. He said firefighters were among those debriefed by counselors afterward because of the magnitude of the crash — “so many people, so many injuries and fatalities.”
A police spokeswoman did not return a call seeking comment Sunday evening but authorities said police investigators would be reconstructing the accident.
Donald Huff, who lives on the Hyattsville street where the accident took place, said the tranquility of a Sunday afternoon was shattered around 5 p.m. that day. He said he heard “a loud boom, just like a bomb,” and then saw the flames.
“The fire just got bigger and bigger,” he told The Associated Press by phone.
He said a couple of people ran out on the street with kitchen fire extinguishers “to try to get as close as they could, but it was a little too much.”
He said that the fire department arrived and brought the fire under control, and he could see emergency crews pulling bodies from the van afterward. White smoke billowed from the scene afterward.
Brady said the adults in the van were mostly in their 20s and 30s and that the children ranged from 4 to 10 years old. He added that by late Sunday night authorities were not yet releasing the names or the identity of the church group and drivers involved while relatives were being notified.
He said that 14 injured — six children and eight adults — had to be sent to several hospitals in the region. He said that eight of those were in critical condition, including four children, and others appeared to have serious injuries.
Brady said police are still only in the early phases of investigating. But he said authorities initially believe the pickup truck rear-ended a passenger vehicle before going several hundred feet farther up a road, losing control and then crossing a double yellow center line into the path of the van. Once the pickup truck had crossed over the line, he said, the van struck the pickup on the right side and the pickup subsequently caught fire.
“The fire actually involved the pickup truck” and not the van, he said by phone. Some bystander photos posted on social media showed flames rising above the crash site not far from the van, which Brady said could hold 15 passengers and had front-end damage from the crash.
A witness also told WTTG-TV that she heard the crash from her home, and when she ran out, she saw “just regular people running in and pulling people out of the van.” She said she saw bystanders remove at least four children from the van.
The photos showed the van and the pickup truck had stopped in what appeared to be the front yard of a single-family home.
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