A crash on Interstate 65 in Butler County Saturday killed 10 people, nine of them ranging in age from 9-months-old to teenagers.
Those killed were in a Tallapoosa County Girls Ranch vehicle and a small SUV, said Butler County Coroner Wayne Garlock. The vehicles involved in the crash were thought to have hydroplaned, officials said.
A father and 9-month-old girl were killed one vehicle and the other eight victims were in the Girls Ranch vehicle, Garlock said.
The victims in the SUV were identified as Cody Fox, 29, and Ariana Fox. They were travelling from Marion County, Tennessee. Garlock said it appeared Cody Fox worked for the emergency management agency in his home county.
Cody Fox was pronounced dead on the scene; Ariana died at the Regional Medical Center in Greenville.
ALEA Trooper Cpl. Jeremy Burkett on Sunday night said troopers responded to the crash site at 2:30 p.m. Saturday.
They 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.
In addition to 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 of the juveniles were from Alabama and were pronounced deceased at the scene.
Troopers do not release the names of juvenile victims.
The coroner and Tallapoosa County Girls Ranch officials also declined to release the name of the children killed.
“Investigating fatal crashes is one of the most difficult responsibilities of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency,” ALEA’s Secretary of Law Enforcement Hal Taylor said in a prepared statement.
“Yesterday, was an extremely heartbreaking day for the state of Alabama as 10 lives were tragically lost in one horrific event. I would like to offer my sincerest condolences to the friends and families of loved ones lost in Saturday’s terrible crash, as well as my gratitude to all of the first responders and volunteers who quickly and valiantly responded to the scene. It was a difficult and unimaginable scene for many, and our thoughts and prayers are with all involved as we continue to investigate and provide closure for those affected.”
ALEA and the National Traffic Safety Board (NTSB) continue to investigate. A native of Bryant, Alabama, Fox was the fire chief at New Hope (Tennessee) Volunteer Fire Department and plant operation manager at Tennessee Tub Factory. He lived in South Pittsburg, Tenn. His fiancé, Hayle Anderson, was injured in the wreck, family members confirmed on social media.
“Cody was an integral part of the EMA staff in Marion County, always ready, always willing to serve,” the agency posted on Facebook.
“His upbeat attitude, his willingness to learn, and without a doubt the politest young man I have ever known, will be greatly missed. I offer my deepest prayers for his parents and family. He was a dedicated responder, a good son, a good brother, a good father and a good friend. I will miss him.
The driver of the Girls Ranch bus was pulled from the vehicle by a bystander. The bystander tried to go back for the children, but could not, Garlock said.
“It was too late to get back to them because the bus was engulfed in fire,” Garlock said.
The young people killed ranged in age from 3-17, Garlock said, and many hailed from Reeltown in Tallapoosa County. Garlock would not release their names because many were in the care of the state.
The driver who was pulled to safety was identified as Candice Gully, director of the Tallapoosa County facility, according to Michael Smith, CEO of the Alabama Sheriff’s Youth Ranches. Candice Gully’s son and daughter and her two nephews were among the dead.
Gully is recovering at a hospital, Smith said.
Girls from the facility were travelling in two vehicles on the way back from a trip to Gulf Shores, Smith said. The vehicle in front was involved in the deadly crash and the girls in the second vehicle did not see the carnage of the wreck, Smith said.
“I thank God for that,” Smith said. “All of the families have been notified. We’re certainly in a grieving process.”
Smith said there will be a long mourning period ahead for all affected by the crash.
“I’ve never seen a tragedy or heard of a tragedy like this in my entire life,” Smith added. “I’m still certainly trying to process what’s going on here, I just know that God is leading me in the direction to continue to try to help the girls who survived and be here with them.
“All of the children that are deceased that were on that van loved God and they are in a better place. Our Christian values will get us through this situation. All that we ask your readers do is please keep us in their prayers and pray for our extended family, our ranch family. We need prayer.
“We have grief counseling. We have pastors meeting with all of our ranches and we’re trying to help them. They’ve been traumatized once again their lives by losing their family. On this ranch, this is their family. They have lost a big portion of their family.”
The children who were killed were a combination of foster children, privately placed children and family members of chaperones, Smith said.
“All of our kids have been through a lot of trauma and they just need help and need love and we love these girls like they are our own children,” Smith said. “I know that God won’t put anything on us that we can’t handle. But I will tell you I’ve had a lot of questions in the past 24 hours. But praying is healing.”
Alabama state troopers on Saturday asked for the public’s help as they seek information about the crash on Interstate 65 North in Butler County.
Butler County Sheriff Danny Bond said the accident involved 18 vehicles — two of them 18-wheelers — and about four or five other people suffered nonfatal injuries.
“This was probably the most horrific accident in Butler County history,” Bond said.
Alabama Law Enforcement Agency was notified at approximately 2:30 p.m. Saturday of a multi-vehicle crash on I-65 northbound at the 138 mile marker in Butler County.
The Tallapoosa County Girls Ranch posted this on Facebook: “Our hearts are heavy today. Our ranch has suffered great loss. As some of you may have hear, one of our ranch vehicles was involved in a multiple car accident this afternoon. Please send prayers our way as we navigate this difficult time.”
The girls’ ranch serves as a foster home for girls from abusive or abandonment situations, and it is supported by the sheriffs of Lee, Chambers and Tallapoosa counties. The ranch is located on Girls Ranch Road between Auburn and Lake Martin.
The crash closed both the northbound and southbound lanes. Parts of the interstate were reopened at about 2 a.m. Sunday.
ALEA is asking for the public’s assistance in gathering information and photos regarding the crash.
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