A two vehicle crash resulted in the death of four people Friday night on a dark stretch of State Road 100 in Andalusia in West Flagler. It is the deadliest crash on Flagler roads since a three-vehicle crash took five lives on U.S. 1 and Old Dixie Highway in February 2017.
The Florida Highway Patrol identified victims as Wilma Williams, 49, Mozella Williams, 13, and Kaleigh Williams, 12, who were traveling together in a Kia, and Thomas Patrick Riley, 62, of San Mateo, who was traveling in a Chevy pick-up.
The crash took place at 8:48 p.m., not far from Shell Bluff Park. A woman and two children–6th and 7th grade girls in Flagler County schools–were reportedly in one vehicle, heading back to Palm Coast, and a man was in the other, heading toward Palatka. The group returning to Palm Coast may have been traveling with family members in a separate car that was not involved in the crash, and that may have been far ahead or behind the scene at the time, though troopers could not confirm that. The family had been returning from a gathering in San Mateo, in Putnam County. There were no witnesses to the crash.
“Our deputies responded to 911 calls indicating that there was a crash in the 13000 block of West State Road 100,” Sheriff Rick Staly said at the scene. He had been on his regular Friday night patrol when he got the call of the crash from the scene of another, far less serious wreck on I-95.
“Both vehicles were fully engulfed. Deputy Derek Logsdon was the first deputy on scene,” Staly said. “He told me the cars were so engulfed that he couldn’t even get close to the vehicles, although he tried. Deputy Brian Jackson was second on the scene, then the fire department. Everybody did everything they could. Myself and two other deputies and then supervisors arrived on the scene. It’s probably one of the most horrific crashes I’ve seen in my career.” (The sheriff has been on the job with only a few years’ interruption since the early 1970s.)
“I attempted to gain access to the vehicles to ascertain if there were any occupants,” Jackson later reported, according to 911 dispatch notes, “but the radiant heat was too intense to approach. What I thought was one vehicle, was actually two fully involved vehicles in flame. Due to the information coming in I quickly started looking around the immediate area for anyone who might have been ejected from the accident. Minutes later, Fire and Rescue arrived on the scene and commenced extinguishing the vehicle fire. I continued looking in the immediate area for ejections and Fire Flight also arrived on scene and also looked for ejection with the [infrared] camera. We were met with negative results in our search.”
At the scene, a family member sobbed a few dozen feet away in the dark about an hour after the crash, against the flash of numerous police cars’ lights. Two victim’s advocates from the sheriff’s office reported to the scene and tended to family members’ needs.
“My understanding is there were two or three family members that were here that were–and I have to speculate–traveling in separate cars, traveling back from an event, as I understand it,” the sheriff said. He believed at least three victims were residents of Flagler County.
The children were students at Belle Terre Elementary and Indian Trails Middle School. Later in the night, Terence Culver, the former principal at Belle Terre Elementary, posted the following on his Facebook page: “Just received a call that two of my former students Mozella, Kaleigh and Wilma their mom was killed in a head on collision.”
Staly said it may not have been a direct head-on crash, but something close to it. The Florida Highway Patrol’s Cpl. Pete Young was the traffic homicide investigator at the scene.
A preliminary report by the Florida Highway Patrol could not conclude on the make of the vehicles, saying only that they were “possibly” a Kia and a Chevy pick-up truck. The report states the Chevy was traveling west and speeding, and crossed the center line, crashing into the Kia. The woman driving the Kia was on the phone with a relative at the time, an FHP investigator said. The relative heard a scream, and the line went silent. The investigator said the identity of all those involved could not be established based on evidence at the scene.
Flagler County Fire Rescue firefighters responded, as did Fire Flight, the county’s emergency helicopter. Authorities did not know if anyone had been ejected at first. The helicopter searched the area from the air and ruled that out.
Traffic was closed in both directions on 100. Travelers weren’t going to be able to get to Palatka through 100 for “many hours,” Staly said.
As the night wore on, four or five vehicles carrying family members of the victims arrived at the scene. Some could be heard speaking by phone to friends or family members. “We just lost Wilma and the girls,” one said. Flagler County Dispatch notes state a caller had put the ages of the younger girls at 12 and 13.
The medical examiner arrived just after 11 p.m.
“Obviously,” Staly said of Logsdon, “he wishes that he could have gotten here quicker, before the vehicles were fully involved, but he seems to be holding up fine. The fire department got here and did a good job too. This is one of those crashes that probably no one could have survived.” It was possible that the department’s Critical Incident Stress Management team would intervene on behalf of the evening’s responders at debriefing.
The school district was taking measures to help students cope with the loss despite the public health emergency that has closed school campuses and transferred all instruction online. “Generally speaking, we do have mental health counselors available to students and staff. That does not change in this situation,” Jason Wheeler, the district’s chief spokesman, said Saturday afternoon. “They’ll just be available virtually. They’ll also be able to join in on any conversations a teacher may have with their class. Of course, this is a little more challenging under our current situation but these are metal health professionals who are extremely adept at whatever situation into which they are brought.”
At least one teacher was planning virtually to address classes impacted by the loss, possibly not waiting until Monday.
“This has been a tragic year for our county for traffic fatalities,” he said. The crash brought the year’s total number of fatalities to 14, exceeding all of last year’s total in the county by two.
Abbey Cooke, who taught one of the children, wrote on Facebook on Sunday: “Wilma Williams was, by far, one of the best mothers I have ever had in my class. She loved her girls hard, supported them hard, and expected them to live up to all of their potential. If they didn’t, she would not let that slide! She expected the best from them because she knew that is what they were capable of. This is a huge part of why Mozella and Kaleigh were such amazing girls. I do not know their older sisters, but Wilma spoke so highly of them, that I can only imagine what amazing young women they are. The loss that we are all feeling, the loss of Wilma, Mozella, and Kaleigh is nothing compared to that of their father. I cannot stop thinking about him. I cannot stop thinking about their older sisters. I wish that there was something, anything, that I could do to help ease their pain.”