By Desiree Hunter
MONTGOMERY, Ala. — A tractor-trailer and prison van carrying job applicants crashed Friday on a rural highway, and authorities said all seven people believed to be riding in the van died in the fiery wreck.
Prison system spokesman Brian Corbett said the van's driver and six applicants died, based on Department of Corrections records detailing who was traveling in the vehicle. The charred, smoldering van was almost unrecognizable, and hours after the crash grim responders were cutting into the vehicle to recover the bodies.
"The crash was horrendous enough, but the fire added to the tragedy," said Montgomery Mayor Bobby Bright, who went to the scene.
The crash happened Friday morning on an isolated stretch of U.S. 82 as the Department of Corrections driver ferried the job applicants from the state prison near Union Springs to another DOC prison, Corbett said.
The driver of the truck, which was loaded with wood products, was taken to a Montgomery hospital with injuries that were not believed to be life-threatening, state trooper spokesman John Reese said.
The wreck occurred sometime before 6 a.m. about 20 miles southeast of Montgomery as the van traveled west toward the capital and the truck headed east, Reese said. The highway was blocked off about three miles from the wreck site in both directions.
The fire made it so difficult to determine what happened that it was hard for officials to initally know how many people died. Early reports on the scene varied, and rescue workers scrambled to locate the victims.
"It was a very high-impact crash," Reese said.
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The crumpled, smoking wreckage of the van and truck were on a charred shoulder near woods, where trees had been blackened by fire all the way to limbs. As responders began efforts to recover the bodies, the burned, overturned van was under a pile of debris that included wood products from the truck. The only identifiable pieces of the van were two charred back tire rims.