Nine children and an adult were killed in a horrifying accident involving multiple vehicles on an Alabama highway on Saturday as heavy storms lashed southeastern United States, authorities said on Sunday. Eight of the children killed were between ages 4 and 17, who were in a vehicle from the Tallapoosa County Girls Ranch, Butler County Coroner Wayne Garlock.
Those killed were in a Tallapoosa County Girls Ranch vehicle and a small SUV. A 9-month-old girl and her father who were in another vehicle were also killed, Garlock said. The vehicles involved in the crash were thought to have hydroplaned, officials said.
The youth ranch provides a home for neglected or abused school-age children, according to the Alabama Sheriffs Youth Ranches, the nonprofit that manages the Tallapoosa County girls ranch and others across the state. The accident happened on I-65 northbound at mile marker 138 on Saturday afternoon during storms that swept through the state.
A tropical depression that had been known as Tropical Storm Claudette dumped heavy rain across the Southeast on Saturday after it came ashore in southeastern Louisiana early that morning. All the eight girls were inside a SUV when the accident took place, killing them almost instantly.
The other 9-month-old girl and her father who were in the SUV were identified as Ariana Fox and Cody Fox, 29. The father-daughter duo was travelling from Marion County, Tennessee. Garlock said it appeared Cody worked for the emergency management agency in his home county. "This was probably the most horrific accident in Butler County history," Sheriff Danny Bond told the al.com website. Bond further said that at least two of the vehicles involved were 18-wheel trucks, and that four or five other people had suffered nonfatal injuries.
The deadly storm wreaked havoc across Alabama on Saturday. ALEA Trooper Cpl. Jeremy Burkett on Sunday night said troopers responded to the crash site at 2:30 pm on Saturday. The 9-month-old girl's death comes as the biggest tragedy, Bond said. The father, Cody, was pronounced dead on the scene, while Ariana died at the Regional Medical Center in Greenville.
Besides Fox and his daughter, troopers said the other fatalities included a 3-year-old, an 8-year-old, a 12-year-old, a 14-year-old, a 15-year-old, two 16-year-olds and a 17-year-old. All the juveniles were pronounced deceased at the scene.
Troopers found a total of 17 vehicles - including two commercial vehicles - were involved in the crash. Of the 17, seven of the vehicles were on fire.
Interestingly, the driver of the small Girls Ranch bus was the only survivor after he was pulled out from the burning vehicle, Garlock said. However, rescue personnel were unable to reach the girls in time. The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency has asked members of the public who may have photos or videos of the accident to submit them to law enforcement.
The National Transportation Safety Board said on Sunday afternoon that it was sending a team of 10 investigators to the scene of the accident, describing it as a "multi-vehicle crash." Troopers do not release the names of juvenile victims.