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Ranch director recalls crash that killed her children, 8 others

Published: Aug. 11, 2021 at 6:24 PM CDT
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TALLAPOOSA COUNTY, Ala. (WSFA) - More than a month has passed since the horrific crash on Interstate 65 that claimed 10 lives, including nine children. Now, for the first time since the tragedy, the driver of the Tallapoosa County Girls Ranch van is breaking her silence.

“It was just chaos, and it almost feels like a dream, like a nightmare that I don’t get to wake up from,” said Ranch Life Director Candice Gulley.

Candice was driving the Girls Ranch van carrying eight children, including two of her own, from a vacation in Gulf Shores, when they were involved in a 12-car pile-up on I-65. The collision caused a fire to break out, engulfing the van in flames.

“I remember shouting for my babies. I remember someone coming to help me out of the van,” Gulley said.

Bystanders pulled Candice from the wreckage, but for the eight children trapped inside the van, and a Tennessee man and his small child in another vehicle, it was too late.

As the van’s sole survivor, Candice explained, “I remember knowing instinctively that my children were gone and that there wasn’t anything I could do about.”

Candice’s nephews, Nicholas and Josiah, along with her own children, 16-year-old Bella and 3-year-old Ben were on board the van.

“Sometimes people will pass out from shock or trauma and I kept on thinking I want to pass out. I just want to pass out because the reality had already sunk in, and once I left the accident and got to the side of the road I did not open my eyes again until I got to the hospital because I just didn’t want to face reality at that time,” Gulley said.

Candice spent days in the hospital recovering from her injuries. She has since returned to the ranch and says being there helps with the healing process.

“This is what my passion is, is to take care of kids and it’s also my calling so really the best thing that I could do for me and my husband is to continue in that,” she said.

Candice plans to continue helping children at the ranch, a safe haven for the abused and neglected, who have now faced another trauma. A trauma that Candice says through faith they will overcome.

“Part of my healing is gonna be to continue encouraging them, but showing them through my everyday life that God has created us to be an overcomer,” Gulley said.

“That, when we are at our weakest moments he’s our strength, and that he’s going to make beauty from the ashes, and I never knew how true that was until now, but I believe it and that’s how I’m gonna move forward,” she went on to say.

People from across the country have come out in support of the ranch, creating a GoFundMe campaign that has raised more than $500,000. Some of that money has gone toward buying new vans which Candice says have special safety features.

A lawsuit has been filed against two trucking companies and a driver involved in the crash.

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