The adults and children who were killed or injured in a fiery crash on Sunday afternoon in Prince George’s County were going from the District to a church service, according to a church co-pastor, when the 15-seat van they were riding in was reportedly hit by a pickup truck.
The explosive crash caused neighbors near the scene at Chillum Road to come running from their houses with fire extinguishers in an attempt to quell the frames.
Most of the adult victims are in their 20s and 30s and the children are between the ages of 4 and 10 years old, Prince George’s County officials said Monday.
The crash happened Sunday around 5 p.m. in the Chillum/West Hyattsville area and left three adults and a child dead at the site of the crash. Fourteen people were also injured — some critically.
Their names have not been released and the investigation still is underway.
The pickup had been involved in an earlier crash before it collided with the van. The truck may have caught fire as a result of the first crash, authorities said.
Those in the van were part of a church called Iglesia Ministerio de Dios Unidos that meets in part of an old office building on Kenilworth Avenue in the Riverdale area, said Roberto Gonzalez, one of the church’s co-pastors.
The church was formed almost two years ago when it operated out of a home and has grown to about 45 members, most immigrants from El Salvador and Honduras, Gonzalez said. They meet weekly on Sunday evenings for worship services.
Many of the church members ride to the service on a church-provided van that picks them up from apartment buildings near the intersection of Georgia and Missouri avenues in Northwest Washington.
On Sunday, the church’s van was late arriving to the service, said Gonzalez. Hymns had ended and the church’s senior pastor, Jose Santos Jimenez, rose to preach.
Before he had begun, the senior pastor got a phone call.
Church leaders were told by authorities there had been a serious crash, Gonzalez said. “I never imagined anything like this,” he said.
The congregants in the van were only about four miles from the church.
Of those injured in the crash, six were children and four of those were in critical condition as of Sunday night. Of the eight adults injured, four were in critical condition.
They were taken to several different hospitals. At least three large area fire departments from the region and two medical helicopters responded to the scene, according to a tweet from a Prince George’s fire official.
At the crash scene Monday morning, black char, triage tags and the blue and purple gloves of emergency responders stood as a reminder of what happened. A Latin religious CD, sat in the street, not far from a garden hose, still dripping water, in the adjacent yard.
Carolyn Bynum, 70, a retired customer service manager and teacher who lives near the crash scene, said she heard a screech, then a crash but didn’t make much note of it.
When she went downstairs and looked out her kitchen window, she spotted a large passenger van on fire, and drivers stopping in the middle of Chillum Road so they could rush out to help those involved.
The flames, Bynum said, “were 20 feet in the air.” “It’s the worst that I’ve seen in 40 years,” she said.
Another nearby homeowner — Donald Huff — said he heard a loud boom when he was watching a football game.
It was “a great big loud boom.” His wife, Delois, shouted to him from upstairs, “What was that?” and he ran to the door.
One or both of the vehicles involved had caught fire quickly, according to his account.
“Flames are shooting in the air,” he said. It seemed to him, he added, that “something exploded.” Black smoke was “going up everywhere.”
Meanwhile, he said, a neighbor who had been close to the scene told him that some of the van’s occupants could not get out.
He said that he could hear people screaming but that it was impossible from about 50 yards away to determine whether they were occupants of the vehicles or neighbors who were going to the scene.
Huff said his neighbors emerged from their houses with kitchen fire extinguishers.
One of those who tried to combat the flames was Cesar Gomez, who lives around the corner from the crash site.
After hearing the loud impact, he said, he grabbed a fire extinguisher and ran to the wreckage.
He said a neighbor had a garden hose, and the two of them tried to douse the flames.
“My idea was if I don’t cut off the fire, it’s going to get into the van and it’s going to get worse,” he said.
- Dana Hedgpeth contributed to this report.