JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The four members of a family who died when their broken-down SUV was rear-ended on the Buckman Bridge on Monday afternoon had recently moved to Jacksonville. The victims' husband and father, a corpsman at NAS Jacksonville, who had recently moved his family here from Arkansas, will return there with the burden of burying his wife and children in their home state.
The pastor of the family's church -- Trinity at Oakleaf -- said the church is collecting online donations and gift cards to help the father, Dexter Culclager, pay for travel expenses. Gift cards can be dropped off at 800 Hammond Blvd. at the C Building front desk, and online donations can be made at http://www.gofundme.com/Culclager.
Dexter Culclager will be going home to Pine Bluff, Arkansas, for the funerals of his wife, 36-year-old Yakel Culclager, and their three children: 18-year-old Trequis Woods-Sims, 17-year-old Tradesia Woods-Sims and 6-year-old Trevieon Woods-Franklin.
All four were killed when the SUV they were in burst into flames after it was struck on the bridge, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.
The family had moved to Jacksonville's Westside. A man who just heard the victims of the tragedy were his neighbors reacted with shock.
"The father had high hopes for his oldest son. He was going to make a decision whether he would join the military or not," said Dean Buben. "His older daughter's about to graduate high school and was talking about college. That's what she was excited for. And the little kid was full of energy. He run around this neighborhood like a firecracker all of the time."
The family's pastor didn't want to talk about the crash Tuesday, but this message was posted on the church's Facebook page on Monday night:
"Tonight a terrible tragedy has impacted a faithful family in our church, a family that has been with us since our launch day in October. This afternoon Dexter Culclager received a call that his entire family (Yakel, Tradesia, Travieon, Trequis) had been killed in a car accident on the Buckman bridge. Pastor Josh and I have been with Dexter this evening and we are committed as a church to be there for him in the tough days ahead. Tonight, I'm asking every person to pray for Dexter and the extended family as they grieve and for many who will be personally impacted in our church by this loss."
Naval Hospital Jax, where Dexter Culclager works, is not doing interviews, but sent a statement saying their "hearts and prayers go out to him and his family."
A neighbor who saw Culclager on Monday morning can't imagine the family being taken so quickly.
"Just real good people. I just can't believe this happened," said Mark Turner. "At this time, believe in your faith, turn to your faith ... and just remember that little boy's smile. That'll keep you going."
Another neighbor, April Craig, whose son played with Trevieon every day, doesn't know how she's going to explain that he's gone.
"I think he's just going to be heartbroken," Craig said.
Many in the family's home state are also grieving the loss of the family.
Trequis' former football coach at Arkansas Pine Bluff High School said his old teammates found out about the crash on social media -- as they were about to start their state championship celebration banquet. He said what was meant to be a joyous night turned into a tragic one.
Bobby Bolding said he coached Trequis during his sophomore and senior seasons at the school. He said that everyone at the banquet was shocked when they heard the news of the crash, but that they held a moment of silence in the family's honor before they started.
"Trequis and his sister were a lot alike. They were just really outgoing kids," Bolding said. "Everybody knew them at school. For Arkansas, we are a fairly large school, about 900 students in the high school. Everybody knew them, the teachers knew them. Mom was involved in pretty much everything that was going on with them."
Bolding said Trequis moved away from the school district during his junior year but was back for his senior year. He said the teen wasn't the biggest or fastest player, but he had a great work ethic and his teammates loved him.
"He was just a really fun-loving young kid," Bolding said. "He enjoyed life. He was a guy that you had to run out of the locker room, just because they're joking and horsing around with the other kids. He loved sports, loved hanging out with all of his friends."
Bolding said because so many people knew the family, the news of the crash spread quickly to many friends of the teens that are still in Arkansas. He said that the community will rally together to keep each other strong while they deal with this loss.
"It's just devastating news for us here in Pinebluff, and we don't even know all the details," Bolding said. "I don't think (how it happened) really matters except that we lost a good young man and it's going to be difficult to deal with."
Tragedy on the Buckman
According to troopers who spent hours investigating Monday's crash, the family's Chevrolet Tahoe was stopped because of a mechanical malfunction in the center lane of Interstate 295 southbound about 2 p.m.
A Nissan Murano stopped behind the Tahoe was struck by a Peterbilt tractor-trailer. The Murano rotated to the left. The big rig then hit the Tahoe, which was pushed into the concrete barrier wall and caught fire. Troopers said the four victims inside were trapped.
Three people in the Murano were transported to Baptist South with non-life-threatening injuries. Grace Hanson, 63, Kenneth Hanson, 65, and Jane Caldwell, 73, were treated and released. The driver of the big rig was not injured.
"It's a very complex scene; a very long scene," said FHP Sgt. Dylan Bryan. "That complicates things."
All southbound lanes of the bridge were closed for more than five hours after the crash reopening shortly after 7 p.m.
Over the course of the afternoon, southbound traffic halted by the crash was slowly turned around and exited off the bridge. Entrances to I-295 southbound were blocked at both Roosevelt and Blanding boulevards.
A Florida Department of Transportation spokesman said inspectors looked at the pavement and guardrail where the crash occurred to make sure there's no structural damage before clearing the southbound lanes to be reopened.
"Typically when you have a fire situation, there can be damaged asphalt," FDOT spokesman Ron Tittle said. "They don't know until they get in there, but it could have damaged the asphalt enough to where we may have to close the lane after the emergency clears."
FDOT officials said the bridge meets all Florida highway qualifications and is safe.
"It's safe as long as people make it safe," Tittle said. "One of the challenges since the last person that went into the water, unfortunately, is we put up signs, and it's being patrolled by Florida Highway Patrol, and for those speeds and all for people to be cautious."
Tittle said a team began studying the bridge's structural integrity in January, checking pillars and concrete for erosion. That study will be finished by August.