A split decision between two pastors on whether they should return home to Georgia after a Florida conference on Saturday night, turned out to be the difference between life and death.
After debating when they and their accompanying parishioners should head back to the Atlanta area, senior pastor Arao Amazonas decided to stay an extra night and leave in the morning, while pastor Jose Carmo Jr lead two vans back home to try and make the suburban Atlanta church's Sunday morning service.
A few hours after Carmo Jr left on the I-75, Amazonas received a call informing him his fellow pastor and family were dead, after both vans had crashed due to fog and smoke that had descended on the highway near Gainesville, Fla.
"We couldn't have imagined such tragedy would come to us," said Amazonas, senior pastor of the International Church of the Restoration.
The accident which occurred just before 4 a.m. Sunday morning, involving at least a dozen cars, a motor-home and six tractor-trailers. A number of cars were flattened under the big rigs, while others caught alight and sent shrapnel flying into the air.
A total of 10 people were killed in the crash, while 18 survivors were taken to hospital.
In a 911 recording released yesterday, a driver told a dispatcher the smoke and fog from a 62-acre brush fire was so thick she was unable to see. "I think there was another accident behind us because I heard it," she said. "Oh my gosh, it's so dark here."
In the same emergency call, her passenger grabbed the phone and screamed in horror as she heard another crash. "That was a truck. We cannot see. It's like impossible to see," she said. "The smoke is very thick you can see obviously only your hand in front. I do hear an ambulance or police officer coming down the road."