Two toddlers, their pregnant mother and two other people died when the car they were riding in became wedged under a semitrailer and burst into flames on a southwestern Indiana highway, authorities said Thursday.
The crash Wednesday night killed Emma Lockard, 21, of Carlisle; her two children, 2-year-old Annaleigh Hunt and 1-year-old Noah Hunt; and two 17-year-olds, Ronnie Mendoza of Carlisle and Laura Hall of Mt. Carmel, Ill., Knox County Sheriff Mike Morris said. Hall and Lockard were cousins.
Lockard was 3 months pregnant, the sheriff said.
"In 35 years of working in law enforcement and being here at the sheriff's department, this is the worst crash as far as magnitude and trauma that I've ever seen," Morris said at a news conference Thursday.
Autopsies revealed that all five victims died from smoke inhalation, Knox County Coroner Donnie Halter told the Vincennes Sun-Commercial.
Morris said the accident occurred about 8:45 p.m. on U.S. 41 near its intersection with old U.S. 41 just outside of Oaktown, about 40 miles south of Terre Haute.
Lockard apparently crossed from the northbound lanes of U.S. 41 into the southbound lanes and drove under the semi's trailer, triggering an explosion and fire that engulfed her car and the trailer, Morris said.
The driver of the semi, Jeffery T. Richardson of Waverly, Tenn., was not injured but was taken to Sullivan County Community Hospital and submitted to blood tests that confirmed he wasn't under the influence of any drugs or alcohol, the Sun-Commercial reported.
Investigators don't know why Lockard drove into the side of the trailer, Morris said. Officers found no skid marks to indicate she tried to stop. The intersection is flanked by hills and curves but is clear of any obstructions.
"We just don't know," Morris said.
Police and fire crews remained on the scene for more than six hours before before U.S. 41, a major four-lane highway, was reopened to traffic. Morris said the semitrailer had to be cut in half and lifted off the car so crews could work to extricate the victims.
The fire burned so hot, he added, that the kind of vehicle Lockard was driving couldn't immediately be determined. Using an identification number, it was later determined that it was a 1993 mid-size Cadillac sedan.
Information from: Vincennes Sun-Commercial, http://www.vincennes.com