In a devastating incident that unfolded in Plant City, Florida, six lives, including those of three children, were tragically lost when a train collided with an SUV at a railroad crossing on a Saturday evening. The victims, who were on their way to a quinceañera, a celebration of a girl’s 15th birthday, encountered a railroad crossing marked only by a stop sign and a railroad crossing sign. There were no crossing arms or warning bells to alert them to the impending danger, according to Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister.
“The word devastating doesn’t even begin to describe the tragedy that unfolded here,” Sheriff Chronister expressed in a statement.
The victims of this horrific incident included a man, two women, and three children, all of whom were part of a family, along with two friends. Another man from the SUV sustained critical injuries and was hospitalized.
Video footage reviewed by investigators revealed that the SUV approached the railroad tracks and attempted to cross without coming to a stop. Sheriff Chronister noted that the train’s conductor attempted to slow down and sounded the horn. Additionally, a witness in another vehicle nearby honked their horn in an attempt to alert the driver before the collision occurred at approximately 6:45 p.m.
Sheriff Chronister described the aftermath as catastrophic, stating, “As you can imagine the carnage that’s created when these two collide. The SUV we can see from the video begins to catapult and flip violently several times before it’s landed a distance from this crossing.” He likened the appearance of the car to that of a “soft drink can that’s been smashed” after the impact.
One of the passengers from the SUV was ejected from the vehicle during the collision and later succumbed to their injuries in the hospital. The victims were identified as follows: the driver, 52-year-old Jose G. Hernandez; passengers Enedelia Hernandez, 50; Jakub A. Lopez, 17; Alyssa Hernandez, 17; Anaelia Hernandez, 22; and Julian Hernandez, 9. The front-seat passenger, 23-year-old Guillermo E. Gama III, survived but remains in critical condition.
According to Jessica Lang, a spokesperson for the sheriff’s office, the passengers in Jose Hernandez’s car included his minor children, an adult child, and two friends of the children.
Sheriff Chronister expressed the profound loss, stating, “Hillsborough County lost a family today, and our hearts are shattered.” All the victims were believed to be residents of Plant City, a community located approximately 25 miles outside of Tampa in central Florida, with a population of about 40,000 people.