Originally created 06/28/99

Five die in two-car collision

Five people died in a fiery two-car collision Sunday on Interstate 20 when an elderly Florida woman crossed the grassy median and hit a westbound vehicle head-on, South Carolina Highway Patrol officials said.

No one survived the crash.

The dead included the woman and her elderly husband from Fort Myers, Fla., and three men from Jonesboro, Ga., who appeared to be in their late 20s to early 30s, Aiken County Deputy Coroner Tim Carlton said.

The elderly man was taken to Medical College of Georgia Hospital, where he died.

Authorities withheld the victims' names late Sunday while they worked to notify the next of kin.

The accident happened about 6 p.m. near Five Notch Road in the Belevedere area between mile markers 5 and 6, reducing traffic to one lane for four hours.

An autopsy scheduled today in Newberry, S.C., should determine what caused the unidentified woman to lose control of the car and cross the median.

In front of the mangled mess that stalled traffic, authorities could only speculate on what led to the horror.

"We don't know whether maybe the driver was having a heart attack, or the husband, who is 83, may have been having a heart attack. We don't know," Mr. Carlton said.

Skid marks indicated a black Ford Thunderbird carrying the trio was driving in the left lane and tried to brake at the last minute, swerving into the right lane before the woman's Chrysler hit the car head-on and flipped the Thunderbird into a nearby ditch,

said Cpl. Tony Bell of the Highway Patrol.

The men were not wearing seat belts and died instantly, Coroner Sue Townsend said.

Curious drivers passing by the twisted wreckage strained to see what had happened. By 8 p.m., drivers spotted five white crosses that Mr. Carlton and Mrs. Townsend painted on the road, indicating five people had died in the accident.

The Highway Patrol's reconstruction team worked to document the details before the bodies were removed, taking measurements and photographing the bodies inside the vehicles.

"Obviously, we have a lot of people dead," said Mrs. Townsend, adding that the investigation wasn't finished. "We've got to have the best answers to be able to answer questions later."

Autopsies will be performed only on the elderly couple, Mrs. Townsend said. They were driving to Maryland to visit relatives, she said.

Investigators were having difficulty identifying the other three victims because not all were carrying identification cards, the coroner said.

The Belvedere Fire Department assisted in extricating the bodies.

New Ellenton Fire Department volunteer Marion Parker was one of dozens of officials who came to offer assistance. He said the tragedy was a bad omen for the upcoming Fourth of July holiday weekend, when millions of motorists travel the nation's highway.

"The holidays ain't even got here yet, and it looks like we got back luck already," Mr. Parker said.

Staff Photographer Christine De Lessio contributed to this article.


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