ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST PARISH, LA (WVUE) - Louisiana State Police are investigating two separate traffic accidents, involving a charter bus, that left two people dead and multiple people injured.
The accident happened around 6:40 a.m. Sunday near mile marker 203.
According to State Police, Troop B troopers and members of the St. John the Baptist Fire Department responded to an accident involving a Nissan pickup truck which came to rest in the right shoulder of the interstate. As crews were looking to close the roadway to help first responders on the scene, a west-bound charter bus lost control for unknown reasons and struck a fire engine parked in the right lane, prior to hitting a car from behind. The car was pushed into the rear of a Chevrolet pickup truck and flatbed trailer. After striking the car, the bus then struck three firefighters, throwing them from the elevated portion of the interstate over the guard rail and into the water below.
One of the firefighters, identified as District Chief Spencer Chauvin with the St. John the Baptist Fire Department, was pronounced dead at River Parishes Hospital. The other two firefighters were identified as 35-year-old William Mack Beal of Gonzales and 32-year-old Nicholas Saale of Ponchatoula. Beal suffered moderate injuries and was transported to a local facility. Saale was airlifted to the University Medical Center Level 1 Trauma Center with critical injuries, according to police.
One of the rear passengers in the car, identified as 21-year-old Jermaine Starr of Moss Point, MS was pronounced on the scene. The driver of the car, identified as 35-year-old Marcus Tate, also of Moss Point, was airlifted to Our Lady of the Lake Hospital in Baton Rouge with serious injuries. The front seat passenger in Tate's car, identified as Vontravous Kelly, and the other rear seat passenger, identified as David Jones, both of Moss Point, were taken to University Medical Center. Kelly is listed in critical condition and Jones is listed in serious condition.
The driver of the Chevrolet was identified as 48-year-old Emiliano Acosta of Kenner and the front seat passenger was identified as 50-year-old Solma Almendarez, also of Kenner. The rear seat passengers in the Chevrolet were identified as 30-year-old Jenyfer Espinal of Kenner and two 10-year-old juveniles. All in the Chevrolet pickup suffered minor to moderate injuries and were transported local hospitals.
Police say that there were 24 passengers on the bus, all of which were reportedly injured with minor to moderate injuries. All were transported to local hospitals for treatment. Police say that those on board were traveling from New Orleans to Baton Rouge to assist with the flood recovery.
State police say that the driver of the bus has been identified as 37-year-old Denis Yasmir Amaya Rodriguez of Honduras and that he is in the country illegally. Investigators learned that Rodriguez did not have a driver's license or a commercial vehicle license. Charges are pending in this case.
Police say that the bus belonged to Kristina's Transportation LLC/AM Party Bus out of Jefferson.
Rodriguez will be booked in the St. John the Baptist jail. He will be charged with two counts of negligent homicide, reckless operation, and no driver's license. Police say that additional charges are forthcoming.
The crash remains under investigation. Homeland Security Investigations is assisting Louisiana State Police with the investigation.
State police say that Interstate 10 west bound reopened Sunday afternoon.
"This is a very sad day for all first responders in Louisiana," said Colonel Mike Edmonson, Louisiana State Police Superintendent. "Our thoughts and prayers are with the St. John the Baptist Fire Department. Louisiana has the "Move Over" law in place to protect our first responders on our roadways. Please adhere to this law and slow down when approaching emergency vehicles and disabled vehicles on the road."
St. John the Baptist Parish President Natalie Robottom issued the following statement, Sunday morning:
"It is a sad day in St. John the Baptist Parish as we lost one of the bravest and most dedicated firefighters that I know. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family, as well as to the families of the other 2 firefighters involved in the accident.
This was a horrific accident and one that is still very active. This type of loss will affect the entire department and they will have our full support as they deal with the grief of losing a comrade. It is heartbreaking, especially after this same group of individuals helped to guide St. John the Baptist Parish safely through Hurricane Isaac, the February tornado and the flood event last week. Please pray for all involved and please pray for our community."
-St John the Baptist Parish President Natalie Robottom