Youth hostel director says “words can’t explain” Alabama crash
Posted on Monday, June 21, 2021 | 3:15 p.m.
Updated 5 hours and 12 minutes ago
CAMP HILL, Alabama (AP) – Girls have often lived a life of abuse, abandonment or neglect by the time they land at a Christian youth hostel in rural Alabama, but an annual trip to the beach with the director and her family offered them a bright spot in otherwise difficult times.
This year’s trip to the Gulf Coast ended in disaster when four residents of the Tallapoosa County Girls’ Ranch, two of the director’s children and two guests were among 10 people killed in a fire accident on a rainy highway as Tropical Storm Claudette swept through Alabama.
In total, the storm killed 14 people before crossing the Carolinas and heading out to sea, where it was to dissipate. A 24-year-old man and a 3-year-old boy were killed on Saturday when a tree fell on their home just outside Tuscaloosa, and a 23-year-old woman from Fort Payne, southeast of Huntsville, is died after her car ran off the road in a swollen stream, authorities said.
Search dogs have located the body of a man who allegedly fell into the water during a flash flood in Birmingham, media reported.
The pickup truck in Saturday’s crash caught fire in the wreckage along a wet 65 highway about 55 kilometers south of Montgomery. Butler County Coroner Wayne Garlock said several vehicles likely hydroplaned in the high-density vacationer area he said was “notorious” for the dangerous conditions where the northbound freeway descends. up a hill to a small stream.
The van was carrying children aged 4 to 17 who were in care at the ranch, which is operated by the Alabama Sheriffs Association and takes in abused and neglected children, including foster children. The group was returning to the ranch near Camp Hill, northeast of Montgomery, after a week at Gulf Shores beach.
An American flag flew at half mast at the ranch on Monday, and bouquets of flowers decorated a sign. Grim-faced workers and volunteers came and went in silence as the CEO struggled to keep his emotions in check.
“I know we have lost eight of our children. That’s what I know, ”said Michael Smith.
Smith said there were two camper pickups as well as a car pulling a trailer loaded with suitcases. The lead van was involved in the crash, he said.
“A lot of our kids haven’t even seen the beach, so it’s an annual event where we can take these kids out there,” he said. It was the first time we had returned to the beach after the COVID-19 pandemic, “and we were so excited.”
The crash also claimed the lives of two people in another vehicle – a 29-year-old Tennessee man and his 9-month-old daughter. Other people were injured.
Smith said the victims included Ben Gulley, who would have turned 4 on Tuesday and was the son of ranch manager Candice Gulley, the lone survivor of the van, which was pulled from the flames by a passerby. Another of her 16-year-old children was also killed.
Four other people killed were residents of the ranch and two were guests, Smith said.
A GoFundMe page has started paying the funeral costs for two guests, Josiah Dunnavant, 12, and Nicholas Dunnavant, 8, said the boys were Gulley’s nephews.
“Words cannot explain what I saw,” Smith said of the crash site, which he visited on Saturday. He returned from Gulf Shores in a separate van and did not see the accident when it happened.
Gulley remained hospitalized in Montgomery on Sunday in serious but stable condition. In a Facebook post earlier this year, she described her love for the ranch job.
“This place holds a huge place in my heart and its mission has become my personal mission,” Gulley wrote.
Volunteers delivered food to the ranch on Monday, which sits on a section of a two-lane county road lined with white wooden fences. Sheriff’s cars and orange traffic barrels blocked the road to the area where the girls live in houses with their parents.
Students and community members gathered for a Sunday prayer service at Reeltown High School, the school attended by the girls. One of the surviving girls, who was traveling in a separate vehicle, cried when talking about her “little sisters,” al.com reported.
“When people hear about the ranch, they usually assume the girls did something wrong or wrong to make it happen. But that’s not the case, ”said the teenager, who has not been identified because she is state detained.
“These girls have been through so much and they were such a strong, wonderful and kind members of the family, and it was my privilege and honor to be their big sister,” she said.
At Camp Hill, Smith said those affiliated with the ranch were in a “state of grief” but would work for healing.
“In the Bible it says that God will not impose anything on us that we cannot handle, and we have wondered a lot about this in recent days,” Smith said. “But God has big shoulders, and we know that our only way to overcome the grief we have right now is to pray. “
Chandler reported from Montgomery. Jeff Amy in Atlanta, Amy Forliti in Minneapolis, Meg Kinnard in Columbia, South Carolina, and Julie Walker in New York contributed to this report.