TRUXTON, N.Y. (AP) — A runaway trailer hauling crushed cars slammed into a minivan carrying two families in upstate New York, killing four young children and three adults in their early 20s, authorities said Thursday.
All seven victims, including four children ages 4 to 7, were killed and a man was injured when their van was hit by a trailer that broke away from a truck on Route 13 around 6 p.m. Wednesday in the rural town of Truxton, about 25 miles south of Syracuse.
The accident Wednesday night claimed the lives of 26-year-old Teresa Bush and her daughters, 4-year-old Alexis and Jasmine, 5. Also killed were 21-year-old Lena Beckwith; Carino Vanorden, 24; Alyssa Mead, 7; and Tyler Mead, 4.
Shawn Mead, the father of the two Mead children, was transported to Upstate University Hospital in Syracuse where he was in good condition.
All of the victims were from the local area.
In a posting on a Facebook page that apparently belonged to Beckwith, she and Vanorden had been engaged since 2011.
Officials said the trailer disconnected from the southbound rig and slammed into the northbound van, ripping it apart. Both vehicles came to rest on the shoulder of the two-lane road.
Ken Stone, first assistant fire chief of Truxton, was one of about 20 firefighters who responded. He said the van's driver saw the trailer coming and drove off the road trying to avoid it.
"They tried to miss it, but he ran out of time," said Stone. "All of a sudden, a trailer is coming at you and there's no truck on it.
"Tore it right apart," he said. "It was humbling, especially young kids. It tears you up."
Stone said a couple of victims were under the trailer, which had to be jacked up to get them out.
"It was all instant, no doubt," he said.
Family members gathered Thursday morning at a farmhouse about a mile from the accident site. Adults were in groups talking while children bounced on a trampoline. A woman who met reporters asked for privacy and said the family would talk when they are ready. Knocks on doors went unanswered at several residences connected to the victims.
A person who answered the phone at Vanorden's declined to comment.
Sheriff's Capt. Mark Helms said two people in the truck were not injured. The cause of the accident is still being investigated and authorities are looking at everything from mechanical failure to driver actions.
The Newton Salvage truck was driven by Ryan Dorward, 26, of Manlius, who was accompanied by Duane Newton. Messages left with Newton and the Georgetown, N.Y.-based salvage company were not returned Thursday afternoon. Dorward's telephone mailbox was full and could not accept messages.
In New York, trucks are required to be inspected at least once a year and are subjected to random roadside checks by the Department of Transportation or state troopers, said Jennifer Post, spokeswoman for the DOT. Drivers are also required to do a "walk-around" inspection of their trucks every time they make a trip, checking — among other things — tire pressure and condition, brakes and the coupling between truck and trailer.
The salvage company has been in business since last year and one roadside inspection by troopers in March of this year, according to the DOT. The inspection found minor violations, including being 4 percent overweight, having no reflective tape and no fire extinguisher. None of them resulted in the truck being taken out of service.
Stone said responders were deeply affected by the crash.
"My god! What did we just go through?" he said of the firefighters' reaction. "What did we just see? Did that just really happen?"
"You get all that training and you're not ready for it," he said. "You can't be if you're human."
The crash occurred along a stretch of the two-lane road in rural Truxton, a town of 1,100 located a few miles northeast of the city of Cortland. Route 13 remained closed for more than seven hours.
"It's the worst thing I've ever seen. It's just a horrible thing. It gives me goose bumps," said Ann Maxson, 74, a lifelong Truxton resident. "It's a close-knit community. Everybody cares for everybody."
A sign along Route 13 near the town line reads: "Please drive safely. We (heart) our children."