Tropical Weather Alabama

The Us Flag flies at half mast Sunday, June 20, 2021, in Camp Hill, Ala., at the Alabama Sheriff's Girls Ranch which suffered a loss of life when their van was involved in a multiple vehicle accident Saturday, resulting in eight people in the van perishing. (AP Photo/Vasha Hunt)

(AP) - Ten people, including nine children, were killed Saturday in a fiery multi-vehicle crash on Interstate 65 near Greenville, according to Butler County Coroner Wayne Garlock.

He said the vehicles likely hydroplaned on wet roads, with eight children, ages 4 to 17, killed in a van belonging to a youth ranch for abused or neglected children operated by the Alabama Sheriffs Association. Two people died in separate vehicle, Garlock told local news outlets — 29-year-old Cody Fox and his 9-month-old daughter, Ariana, both of Marion County, Tennessee.

“He was a great guy and we’re really gonna miss him,” said Aaron Sanders, who worked with Fox at the emergency management agency in Marion County. He said Fox also ran a hot tub business with his father and doted on his daughter. “He just loved her to death and that was his life.”

Multiple people were also injured.

The National Transportation Safety Board tweeted that it was sending 10 investigators to the area Sunday to investigate the crash, which photos showed included at least four burned vehicles, including two large trucks. It said the inquiry would focus on vehicle technologies such as forward collision warning systems, fuel tank integrity and occupant survivability.

The eight children killed in the van were returning to a youth ranch near Camp Hill, northeast of Montgomery, from a week at the beach in Gulf Shores, youth ranches CEO Michael Smith told The Associated Press. The van caught fire after the wreck. Candice Gulley, the director of the Tallapoosa County ranch, was pulled from the flames and remained hospitalized in Montgomery in serious but stable condition. “She’s going to survive her physical injuries,” Smith said.

Tropical Weather Alabama

This photo taken Sunday, June 20, 2021, shows the Alabama Sheriff's Girls Ranch in Camp Hill, Ala., which suffered a loss of life when their van was involved in a multiple vehicle accident Saturday, June 19, 2021, resulting in eight people in the van perishing. (AP Photo/Vasha Hunt)

Two of the dead in the van were Gulley’s children, ages 4 and 16. Four others were ranch residents and two were guests, Smith said.

“This is the worst tragedy I’ve been a part of in my life,” said Smith, who drove Sunday to the ranch to talk to the remaining residents, who had returned from Gulf Shores in a separate van and did not see the wreck.

“Words cannot explain what I saw,” Smith said of the accident site, which he visited Saturday. “We love these girls like they’re our own children.”

Garlock said the location of the wreck is “notorious” for hydroplaning, as the northbound highway curves down a hill to a small creek. Traffic on that stretch of I-65 is usually filled with vacationers driving to and from Gulf of Mexico beaches on summer weekends.

“Butler County has had one of the most terrible traffic accidents,” county Sheriff Danny Bond wrote on Facebook, adding: “I believe is the worst ever in our county.”

The Tallapoosa County school system said counselors would be available Sunday at the 225-student Reeltown High School, where some of the ranch residents were students. Smith said the ranch, which is Christian-based, would likely have a memorial service later, asking for prayers as he began to cry.

A GoFundMe account was set up for Tallapoosa County Girls Ranch to help offset the costs of funeral expenses, medical costs for the injured and counseling for those impacted.

Gulley, the lone survivor from the van, had worked with children for years, beginning when she and her husband were house parents at the ranch for seven years.

“During those years, there have been 74 girls that have come through our house and called us mom and dad,” she told the Opelika-Auburn News in August 2019. She said she then became a relief parent, working on fundraising and being involved in the community, before she became the ranch director.

“My heart goes out to the loved ones of all who perished,” Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey said in a statement.

___

Forliti reported from Minneapolis. Associated Press reporters Kevin McGill in New Orleans, Russ Bynum in Savannah, Georgia, and Kelli Kennedy in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, contributed to this report.

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