Two more die following Florida church van crash

8:40 AM, Sep 16, 2013   |    comments
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A crew member from G&C Towing works to remove the van from Interstate 75 after the vehicle suffered a tire blowout. Fifteen passengers were transported to the hospital / Jack Hardman/



Estero, Florida (News-Press) -- A survivor of the church van crash Saturday that has claimed three lives said she left her 10-month-old with her sister after praying over the child shortly before leaving.

Fifteen members of a east coast church on their way to a convention in Tampa were injured in the Saturday morning crash when their van blew a tire and rolled over on Interstate 75.

Carine Celestin, 34, said Sunday that the crash might have been much worse.

"I was supposed to bring my baby, and I got everything ready," she said. But, after talking with her sister, she let her take the child, Ruthamar Samie, 10-months-old.

"I looked at my baby, and I prayed. I said I really don't want her to go," Celestin said. "I told my sister I will leave her. I am so glad I did."

Celestine said the accident is not easy to explain. "I am still asking myself is it a reality? I don't know."

Seven of the injured remain Lee Memorial Hospital, six critical and one fair, said Mary Briggs, Lee Memorial spokesman. She added that all others have been transferred transferred or released.

However, late Sunday the Florida Conference of Seventh-Day Adventists in Winter Park announced that two more of the van passengers had died.

Gardy Jacquet, a family and church member who was waiting with other family and church members at Lee Memorial Sunday, confirmed that two more of the 15 had died Sunday.

Briggs, however, said that as of Sunday afternoon no new deaths had been confirmed at the hospital.

"They had a very bright future," Jacquet said of the those who died in the crash. He said Nostra Damas, the 20-year-old who died Saturday, was very nice. "He was very popular," Jacquet said.

He said that when he heard of the crash he didn't want to acknowledge it. "I could not explain it. I didn't want to believe it," he said.

He added that the close-knit Creole community in Lauderhill would plan special services for those who died. "I don't know how it is going to be Saturday without them there," he said. The denomination holds its services on Saturdays.

He said the survivors would be heading back to the east coast Sunday, and some would return to visit.

Family and survivors say area churches and others have been a bright spot following the tragic crash and subsequent three deaths.

"Local churches are holding prayers, and family has pulled together," said Henoc Paulicin, senior pastor of Ambassador Church, which oversees Maranatha French Seventh-day Adventist Mission Group in Lauderhill, who was at Lee Memorial Sunday afternoon to pray with survivors.

About a dozen family and church members milled around a truck in the Lee Memorial parking lot where there was a smorgasbord of Haitian and Creole dishes brought by area churches.

"The church members and others from the community have come by," said Belinda Paulicin, the pastor's wife. "All the Seventh-Day Adventist churches have poured in support and brought food and helped."

The Rev. Paulicin said that beyond that, not much else has been set up . "At this time nothing has been prepared. We just want to be there for the families," he said.

The condition of an infant injured in the crash who was transferred to Tampa General Hospital was not available Sunday.

Celestin said the infant, Claudine Aveske, 2, is recovering. "The baby is fine," she said.

Celestin's husband, Roland Celestin, 43, also sustained minor injuries in the crash.

He said the driver, Nola Phanor, 45, who also escaped serious injury, did all she could to avoid the crash.

"She tried to control the van. Unfortunately, she could not," he said.

A spokesman for the Florida Highway Patrol said the crash remains under investigation.

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