LAKE BUTLER, Fla. Jan 25, 2006 (AP)

“It’s a very chaotic scene,” said Lt. Mike Burroughs of the Florida Highway Patrol. “It’s just a mangled, charred mess.”

Everyone in the car was killed, including the 15-year-old girl who was driving illegally. All the youngsters had been adopted by the same family and lived together, police said.

It was unclear why the children were unaccompanied.

Evidence from the scene showed that the truck, which was carrying bottled water, did not brake before hitting the car on the two-lane road, Burroughs said.

The bus ended up 200 feet from where the car struck it, and the cab of the truck lay overturned near the scene, Burroughs said. The bus was at an approved bus stop, but it was not immediately clear whether children were getting on or off.

Nine students were on the bus, and three were thrown from the vehicle by the force of the crash.

State police said three were seriously hurt and six others suffered minor injuries. Hospital officials said they received five children, two of whom were in fair condition late Wednesday and three who were in serious condition.

The drivers of the bus and the truck were also taken to hospitals. The truck driver suffered minor injuries, and authorities planned to interview him. The bus driver was thrown from the vehicle, and her condition was not immediately known.

The car was driven by 15-year-old Nicki Mann, who was with siblings Elizabeth Mann, 15; Johnny Mann, 13; Heaven Mann, 3; Ashley Kenn, 13; Miranda Finn, 8 or 9 years old; and Anthony Lamb, almost 2 years old. Lamb was in the process of being adopted, Burroughs said.

Joy Clemmins, who lives next to the crash site, said she heard the collision and ran out of her house.

“It was horrible. People were screaming, children were wandering around, two were laying the middle of the road,” she said. “It is like they were walking around in a dream.”

The bus was operated by the Union County school district, which has three schools from pre-kindergarten to 12th grade in the area about 60 miles southwest of Jacksonville.

School Superintendent Carlton Faulk said extra grief and guidance counselors will be on hand Thursday to help children deal with the tragedy.

Meanwhile, the National Transportation Safety Board said it was sending a team of investigators.

Fatal accidents involving school buses are relatively rare. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that 71 passengers and 42 drivers been killed since 1994 in school vehicles an average of about 10 people per year.

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