NTSB: Unsafe speeds blamed for fiery crash that killed 10
MONTGOMERY, Alabama- Federal traffic investigators said Thursday that unsafe driving speeds by multiple vehicles on wet roads in poor visibility was the likely cause of a violent 2021 freeway accident in Alabama that killed nine children and one adult.
The National Transportation Safety Board released a report on the June 19, 2021 accident involving ten passenger vehicles and two commercial vehicles on Interstate 65 Minor crashes on the rain-soaked freeway. But no blame or causes beyond unsafe driving speeds were made for the road conditions.
“Driving at speeds above the speed limit or driving too fast for the conditions can have serious consequences, including loss of vehicle control, increased accident severity and more serious injuries,” the investigators write in their conclusion. Investigators wrote that the likely cause of the crash was “unsafe speed by multiple vehicles in the rain, poor visibility and wet road conditions.”
A post-crash fire, which likely started after the fuel tank of one of the utility vehicles ruptured during the accident, destroyed six vehicles and contributed to the fatal injuries of eight children in a van, investigators said.
The crash happened after the remnants of a tropical depression crossed the state. It was raining lightly at the time of the accident and the spray of water was affecting drivers’ visibility, the report said. According to the report, the Alabama Department of Transportation had previously noticed an increase in the rate of auto accidents and planned a paving project at the site.
The van was from a home for abused or neglected children and was returning from a trip to the beach. The van was in a line of cars that had slowed or stopped as a result of previous accidents when a chain reaction ensued when three “striking vehicles” – identified as Freightliner trucks, a car transporter and a Ford Explorer – “arrived into traffic.’ Queue and hit vehicles in queue.’
The Ford Explorer crashed into an Acura in line at an estimated speed of 27–30 miles per hour (43–48 km/h), pushing the two cars into each other. The Volvo car transporter then crashed into the Ford SUV at an estimated speed of around 82 km/h and also came into contact with other cars. The Freightliner truck that had been standing behind the car carrier braked and crashed into the van “while it was going through the median, pushing the van into the Volvo car carrier.”
Many of the data recording devices were destroyed in the fire, making it difficult to determine the speed of the vehicles. The report gave no details of the Freightliner’s estimated speed, but said the driver estimated he was traveling at 60 miles per hour (95 km/h) before braking. The Ford Explorer had been traveling at a speed of 81.5 miles per hour (131 km/h) five seconds before impact.
The van was then caught in a fire and five other vehicles came to a standstill in the median. The exact cause of the fire could not be determined due to the extent of the damage, but was likely caused by a ruptured petrol tank in one of the utility vehicles.
The eight children in the van died from thermal and blunt force injuries, and autopsy reports indicate all had inhaled soot before their deaths. The driver of the van, the manager of the girls’ home for abused or neglected children, was the only survivor in the vehicle. Two of her own children, her two nephews and four girls from the home were killed.
A Tennessee man and his baby, who were passengers in the Ford Explorer, were also killed.