BAKER COUNTY, Fla. - Four people were killed and one suffered serious injuries in a fiery head-on crash Monday morning on U.S. Highway 90, just west of Glen St. Mary, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.
FHP and Baker County deputies were called to the crash at Warden Circle just after 9 a.m.
Troopers said Jose Mendez-Pineda, 36, and Maria Perez, 31, both of Jacksonville, were in a silver Toyota Camry and died. Two people in a Ford Expedition that caught fire -- Eloise Foster, 68, and Ceda May Prester, 85, both of Lake City -- also died. They said the woman driving the Expedition, 55-year-old Vivian Leland, of Lake City, was able to get out with the help of paramedics and was hospitalized with serious but non-life-threatening injuries.
Troopers said the two who died in the SUV burned. It's unclear if any of the victims were wearing seat belts.
Troopers said it appears the Toyota veered over the center line, causing the crash. They said the driver of the SUV is able to talk, and her interview will be key to the investigation.
"Some of the next steps is processing the info, the evidence we have here at the scene, talk to other witnesses and parties involved," FHP Sgt. Dylan Bryan said.
The road was closed for nearly seven hours, and drivers were encouraged to take alternate routes.
"We came along this narrow road. There's a fireball. We arrive to it, but there's no way that anyone could help," said Traci Briggs, who saw the aftermath of the crash. "There were some people running from the vehicles up to the scene of the accident, but the fireball was too intense. At one point, there's various explosions, whether it was the gas tank or tires."
Bryan said there have been 51 crashes in the area since 2010. He said FHP and the Florida Department of Transportation are working together to find a solution.
"We call it the three Es, if you will: education and enforcement. If those don't work, we look at engineering if the road needs to be repaved or resurfaced or redesigned," Bryan said.
Bryan said it's always difficult to investigate a fatal crash.
"It's emotional for the officers and any emergency responders that's evolved," he said. "Each officer has their own coping mechanisms or debriefing points they use, but it's something the FHP certainly emphasizes with their officers to be able to handle situations like this."
Bryan said the investigation could take weeks or months.
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