8 Killed And 45 Hurt After A Bus Carrying Farm Workers Crashes In Florida

(CNN) – Authorities are bracing for the possibility of additional deaths after emergency officials said a bus thought to be carrying migrant farm workers crashed on a state highway in north-central Florida Tuesday, leaving eight dead and 45 injured.

The 2010 International Bus carrying “approximately 53 farm workers” and a 2001 Ford Ranger sideswiped each other around 6:35 a.m., about 15 miles west of Ocala, the Florida Highway Patrol said in a statement.

The Ford, “for unknown reasons, traveled toward the center line” before the vehicles struck each other, Lt. Patrick Riordan of the Florida Highway Patrol said at a news conference at the scene. The bus then left the roadway, went through a fence and overturned.

Footage captured by CNN affiliate WESH showed the bus – which Riordan said was taking the workers to a farm in the area – lying on its side in a field, with first responders’ vehicles parked nearby, their lights flashing.

“At this point, we are conducting a massive traffic homicide investigation. We have a full team, and then some, here on the scene,” Riordan said. “I can tell you that it’s going to be probably six months, at least, before we conclude, factually, what transpired here today.”

Marion County Sheriff Billy Woods indicated authorities believe the bus passengers were migrant workers, telling reporters, “We’re a very big agricultural county. So this time of year, we always have migrant workers that are in our county, that are on buses just like this.”

Asked about the workers’ immigration status, Woods said, “Everything that I have been told at this point – they all have what they need to be here. There’s no reason for me to be involved with these individuals. They’re hard-working individuals, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with them being here.”

Woods noted there were challenges with language barriers, but said bilingual sheriff’s office personnel and support staff were assisting in the investigation.

Mexico’s Foreign Minister Alicia Bárcena said on Twitter that Mexican workers were involved in the accident, adding, “The Mexican Consulate in Orlando is there to support Mexicans and offer consular assistance.”

The National Transportation Safety Board is monitoring the situation, it said, and the US Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration similarly said it was “aware of the crash.”

“Our sincere thoughts are with the victims, their families, and the community as FMCSA assesses currently available information in support of state and local safety officials,” an agency spokesperson said.

Westbound lanes on Highway 40 will be closed “for most of the day,” the Marion County Sheriff’s Office said on its Facebook page, asking motorists to take alternate routes.