A tragic accident occurred on Saturday evening when a freight train collided with an SUV at a railroad crossing in Plant City, Florida, killing six people and injuring one. The victims were members of a family and two friends who were on their way to a quinceañera, a celebration of a girl’s 15th birthday.
SUV Driver Did Not Stop at the Crossing
According to Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister, the SUV driver, identified as 52-year-old Jose G. Hernandez, did not stop at the crossing, which was marked by a stop sign and a railroad crossing sign, but no crossing arms or warning bell. Video footage from the front of the train showed the SUV “slow crawl” across the tracks without looking both ways.
The train conductor tried to slow down and honked the horn, and a witness in another vehicle also honked to alert the driver, but it was too late. The train, which was traveling at over 55 mph, slammed into the SUV, causing it to flip several times and land a distance from the crossing.
“The word devastating doesn’t even begin to describe the tragedy that unfolded here,” Chronister said in a statement.
Five People Ejected from the SUV and Died at the Scene
Five of the seven people in the SUV were “violently ejected” from the vehicle and pronounced dead at the scene, Chronister said. They were Enedelia Hernandez, 50; Jakub A. Lopez, 17; Alyssa Hernandez, 17; Anaelia Hernandez, 22; and Julian Hernandez, 9. The sheriff’s office said they were Jose Hernandez’s minor children, an adult child and two friends of the children.
The driver and the front-seat passenger, 23-year-old Guillermo E. Gama III, were rescued and taken to the Lakeland Regional Hospital in critical and serious condition, respectively. However, Jose Hernandez succumbed to his injuries and died overnight in the hospital, bringing the death toll to six.
“Hillsborough County lost a family today, and our hearts are shattered,” Chronister said.
Investigation Underway to Determine the Cause of the Crash
The sheriff’s office said it was working with the Florida Highway Patrol and the CSX Railroad to investigate the cause of the crash and whether any charges will be filed. Chronister said he believes there were no crossing arms or alarms at the crossing because it was on a road in a not well-traveled area.
He also said the scene of the crash was horrible to see and that the deputies and first responders were shaken by the carnage. He urged the public to pray for the victims and their families and to always exercise caution at railroad crossings.
“Anyone who goes and sees the carnage that’s been created, whenever you compound that with the fact that some children lost their life here, maybe an entire family lost their life here tonight – we are all visibly shaken,” he said. “We are rattled at our core after witnessing what happened here tonight.”