MONTGOMERY, Ala. – A collision between an 18-wheeler and a state van Friday left a fiery, mangled heap on a rural highway and killed six applicants for prison jobs and their driver, authorities said.
Prison system spokesman Brian Corbett said all seven aboard the van died. Flames that rose from the twisted wreckage made it difficult for responders to cut into the overturned van to recover the bodies. The process took several hours, and towing company workers said the wreck was among the worst they'd seen.
"The crash was horrendous enough, but the fire added to the tragedy," said Montgomery Mayor Bobby Bright, who went to the scene.
The crash happened Friday morning on an isolated stretch of U.S. 82 as Department of Corrections employee ferried the job applicants from a state prison near Union Springs to another DOC prison, Corbett said.
He said the van was being driven by 36-year-old correctional officer Rodney Kelley. The applicants were identified as Julius Bouier, 26; Lionel Moore, 18; John Foye Jr., 20; Brandon Anglin, 23; Henry Simmons Sr., 45; and Derrick Ivey, 22.
State trooper spokesman John Reese said the crash appeared to be a head-on collision but investigators were still trying to determine what happened.
The driver of the truck hauling wood products, Andrew David Carter, 31, of Tifton, Ga., was treated at a Montgomery hospital and released. Carter said he and his family were "deeply disturbed by the events that took place this morning."
"To the families of the (passengers) and the guard who lost their lives in the accident, our thoughts and prayers are with you," he said in a release. "We are very sorry for your loss."
The wreck occurred sometime before 6 a.m. about 20 miles southeast of Montgomery as the van traveled west toward the capital and the truck headed east, Reese said. The highway was blocked off about three miles from the wreck site in both directions during the recovery effort.
"It was a very high-impact crash," Reese said.
Several tow trucks were called in along with construction equipment to move parts of the mangled heap.
The crumpled, smoking wreckage of the van and 18-wheeler were on a charred shoulder near woods, where trees had been blackened by the fire and white smoke still wafted up hours later.
Corbett said the department offers to transport job applicants to employment sessions that are held at different prison sites each month and the one for September was being held Friday at Draper prison in Elmore County.
The group being ferried Friday had gone to a pickup site at a prison in Union Springs for the ride of about 60 miles to Draper, where 158 applicants gathered for the session.