A man and woman died and three teenagers were injured -- one of them critically -- when a church van overturned early Friday morning on Interstate 75 in Columbia County, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.
The van carrying three adults and seven children aged 12 to 17 from a South Florida church to a camp in Georgia crashed about 8:20 a.m. when a tire blew out near the entrance ramp from U.S. Highway 90. The vehicle overturned.
"At first you saw police cars. Then you saw ambulances, fire trucks all responding," said Caleb Fisher, who heard the commotion as he arrived to open the Arby's restaurant near the interstate. "Everybody in the store was wondering what’s going on?"
FHP said the driver, Jeff Novak, 52, and front-seat passenger Michalanne Salliotte, 55, were thrown from the vehicle and pronounced dead at the scene. According to the FHP, one teenager was the only occupant of the van wearing a seat belt.
Two 14-year-old boys and one 13-year-old were taken to UF Health in Gainesville -- one with life-threatening injuries. The third adult and remaining teenagers were taken to Lake City Medical Center to be checked for injuries.
The van was from First Baptist Church in New Port Richie and headed to Covington, Ga.
"The left-rear tire had a blowout and the driver lost control," FHP Sgt. Tracy Pace said. "The driver attempted to gain control of the vehicle, however it went over onto the east shoulder, where the van overturned."
Two lanes of I-75 northbound and the westbound U.S. 90 entrance ramp were closed for two hours after the crash. Fisher said he provided sandwiches to the rescue workers and surviving victims.
"I talked to my boss, he talked to his boss, and we were like, 'We just want to help,'" Fisher said.