1 Dead, 15 Injured After Lauderhill Church Van Crashes in Lee County

At least 13 were injured after a church van rolled over in Estero.

By Gilma Avalos and Claudia DoCampo
|  Saturday, Sep 14, 2013  |  Updated 6:02 PM CDT
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Authorities say one person has died and more than a dozen people were injured when a church van rolled over in Lee County near Ft. Myers, Fla. while it was on its way from Lauderhill to Tampa. NBC 6's Gilma Avalos spoke with 21-year-old Melinda Damas, the sister of the 20-year-old Nostra Damas who died in the crash.

Authorities say one person has died and more than a dozen people were injured when a church van rolled over in Lee County near Ft. Myers, Fla. while it was on its way from Lauderhill to Tampa. NBC 6's Gilma Avalos spoke with 21-year-old Melinda Damas, the sister of the 20-year-old Nostra Damas who died in the crash.

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Churchgoers Speak About Fatal Van Crash

Authorities say one person has died and more than a dozen people were injured when a church van rolled over in Lee County near Ft. Myers, Fla as the van traveled from Lauderhill to Tampa. NBC 6's Claudia DoCampo spoke with members of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church in Lauderhill about the crash.
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One person has died and 15 others were injured when a church van rolled over in Lee County near Ft. Myers, Fla.

The van was coming from the Maranatha Seventh-day Adventist Church in Lauderhill along with two other vans on their way to Tampa, churchgoers said.

A Florida Highway Patrol report said the van crashed on an Interstate 75 overpass in Estero Saturday morning. The victims were taken to local hospitals and the report said passengers had both minor and serious injuries, with some listed as critical.

Preliminary investigation shows one of the van's tires blew out and the driver over-corrected, resulting in the roll-over, said NBC affiliate WBBH.

"The tire blew off and then the car lost control, I tried to control it, and then it flipped over," driver Nola Phanor said.

The left rear tire tread separated from the tire, causing the van to drive onto the emergency lane on Interstate 75 in Estero Saturday morning, according to the FHP. The van's driver then tried to steer back onto the inside lane when it spun clockwise and overturned.

Seven passengers were taken to the hospital with serious or critical injuries, including a 2-year-old girl. Another eight had minor injuries.

FHP identified the fatal victim as 20-year-old Nostra Damas.

His sister Melinda Damas, 21, was on the bus with him when it crashed.

"That's my little brother," she said. "My little brother's gone. He's passed away."

Melinda Damas said she couldn't believe she escaped alive after she watched her brother take his last breaths as she begged him to hang on.

"'Just breathe, just breathe,'" she told him.

A total of three vans carrying 45 passengers left Broward to go to Tampa. Jean Robert Fede, the driver of the last van, saw the crash.

"I see the van skid around," he said. "It skid around one time, a second time and flipped over."

Church members gathered past the morning's services at the Lauderhill church Saturday to console each other and share the news of the crash.

"The people from that van told us that they saw the accident," church clerk Enuce Charles said. "People flying all over. It was very bad unfortunately."

Stay with NBC6.com and NBC 6 South Florida for updates.

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