Fatalities climb after church van crashes on I-75 in Estero

Eric Maze & Julian Glover

Photo: Video by fox4now.com

Fatalities climb after church van crashes on I-75 in Estero

CREATED Sep. 14, 2013 - UPDATED: Sep. 15, 2013

ESTERO, Fla. - A Lee Memorial spokesperson has confirmed two more people have died as a result of a crash Saturday morning on I-75. 

A church van traveling from the Fort Lauderdale area crashed on northbound I-75 on the Corkscrew Road overpass Saturday morning. One person died right after the crash, two more died Sunday. 

According to the pastor of the congregation the travelers belonged to, the van was headed to a religious convention in Tampa.

Pastor Henoc Paulicin of the Ambassador Seventh Day Adventist Church, exclusively speaking Saturday to Fox 4, said he was already in Tampa when he got word of the crash and then rushed Fort Myers to be with his people. 

"I prayed with them. It's a tough situation, they're in mourning," said Pastor Paulicin. "Right now we have to leave the rest to God."

The Florida Highway Patrol says the van was traveling along the inside lane when the left rear tire tread separated from the tire.  The van veered onto the emergency lane and the driver, 45-year-old Nola Phanor of Sunrise, tried to keep the van on the highway.

The FHP says as a result the van began to spin and eventually rolled over coming to rest on its roof in the outside travel lane.

The crash killed 20-year-old Nostra Damas of North Lauderdale Saturday.

Sunday, 22 year-old Ose Elian of Sunrise and 62-year-old Gertha Petit-Frere, also of Sunrise, died.

Five others remain in Lee Memorial Hospital, four are in critical condition and one more is in fair condition. 

A two-year-old was upgraded to serious but stable condition in Tampa General Hospital. The child was flown by helicopter to the hospital Saturday due to her life-threatening injuries.

All others involved in the crash have been released with minor injuries. 

In all, 15 adults and the child were riding in the van.

As the FHP continues to investigate the crash, the initial findings are strikingly similar to a crash happening in July involving another passenger van. A tire on that vehicle also exploded, causing it to flip over while traveling on I-75.

While the Pastor of the injured says they have full faith in the doctors, their faith is with God.

"In spite of what happened, God is still God," said Pastor Paulicin, "so He may be able to do what the doctors are unable to do."

The crash happened around 7:30 a.m. and as a result I-75 northbound was closed for nearly four hours. 

The FHP is still investigating the crash to see which passengers were wearing seatbelts and which passengers were ejected from the van.