KENTUCKY (WITI) — A fiery crash on a Kentucky highway Saturday morning, February 2nd left six people dead.
Police say the group was returning home to Wisconsin from a trip to Orlando, Florida when their Ford Expedition was rear-ended by a semi truck in the northbound lanes of I-65.
The Expedition burst into flames and struck a Toyota Camry from behind.
Four adults and two children in the Expedition were killed. Two other children escaped the burning vehicle and were listed in critical condition.
The driver of Camry was treated for minor injuries. The driver of the truck was uninjured.
Police say the cause of the crash is still under investigation.
Shortly after the fatal accident, a second accident involving four vehicles occurred in the southbound lanes, injuring three.
Those killed include: James Gollnow and his wife Barbara, both 62 years old, their 18-year-old daughter Sarina, a 92-year-old friend, Marion Champnise and foster children, 10-year-old Gabriel Zumig and eight-year-old Soledad Smith.
Two other foster children survived the crash, but were hospitalized.
Neighbors in the small Shawano County community said they’re stunned to learn six people were killed in this devastating crash.
“I was completely in shock. I wasn’t expecting such a thing. I’d just been thinking about them that day,” Deb Rades said.
Rades says she expected her neighbors to return home from a Florida vacation this weekend. Instead, she got the news of the deadly crash that killed six of the eight passengers inside the Expedition the family was traveling in.
“Sarina had posted on Facebook that she was heading back to Wisconsin. She seemed excited to be coming back but sad to be leaving Florida,” Rades said.
The Gollnows lived in Florida for nearly a decade, but they are originally from the Marion area.
“Barb and Jim were very caring people. They were always taking in foster kids. They made a lot of difference in the kids they worked with. Barb really really worked so the kids could have the best they could be given and receive the best help they needed,” Rades said.
Rades said she not only lived close to the family, but she’d also had several of their foster children in class at Marion Elementary, where she teaches first grade.
“I’ll always remember Gabe’s smiling face. Gabriel, he loved reading. One of the girls, Soledad, was in second grade, but still, the kids know them. It’s a small community. It’s a small school so when something happens to somebody everybody knows,” Rades said.
Rades says counselors will be on hand Monday at Marion Elementary School and Marion High School, where the children attended.
“It’s hard for everyone, but it’s hard to understand for children when a crash happens and kids that they know kids their age are suddenly gone. It leaves a hole in their lives and they don’t understand. I’ll miss them,” Rades said.
News of this crash hit Kenny Huebner hard.
“My mom called me. I was on my way home from Green Bay. She could hardly talk and when she finally got it out, I couldn’t believe what I heard. I just said this can’t happen and it did. God bless them,” Huebner said.
Huebner knew James Gollnow. Years ago, the 62-year-old gave Huebner his first job building firefighting equipment.
“He was a great guy and his wife who passed away with him was a super, super woman. To do what they did with their foster kids and keep on going — it’s a bad day. God bless and may they rest in peace — that’s all I can say,” Huebner said.
The cause of this crash remains under investigation, but officials say distracted driving is among the causes being investigated.