The California Highway Patrol is investigating a New Year’s Day head-on crash that killed seven children and two adults on a central California highway.
The driver of a Dodge Journey SUV was traveling southbound on rural State Route 33, when he overcorrected and struck a Ford F-150 traveling northbound. The Dodge came to a stop straddling both lanes of the highway, while the Ford was engulfed in flames.
“When the fire was extinguished, tragically it was discovered there were eight occupants — seven of which appeared to be juveniles — inside the Ford,” CHP Capt. Kevin Clays said at a Saturday news conference.
The children, who were between the ages of 6 and 15 years old, were members of two related families, the Fresno County Coroner’s office later said. The Ford F150 was equipped with only six seat belts.
The sole occupant of the Dodge, identified as 28 year-old Daniel Luna, also died in the crash.
“It’s tragic for the community,” Clays said. “It’s tragic for our officers that respond to these incidents.”
Officials are investigating if alcohol or drugs were a factor, as well as the speed of the vehicles. Weather or other road conditions do not appear to be factors, officials said.
The CHP hopes to talk to witnesses who saw what happened in the seconds before the collision, as all the witnesses they have talked to up to this point came upon the crash after it occurred.
The families of the Ford’s occupants have set up a GoFundMe account.
“While we cannot begin to understand the reason we lost them all at once, we are burdened with the reality of having to lay eight family members to rest at one time,” they wrote in the description. “We take solace in knowing that they left this world together.”
Contributing: The Associated Press