ORLANDO — The 5-year-old Smith twins were giddy with excitement about their family’s upcoming spring break trip to Disney World. They couldn’t wait to get out of frozen Whitman, to visit the Magic Kingdom, and soak up the sun, their preschool director said. A photo from last year’s trip south showed the girls and their two older siblings clustered around Daisy Duck, grinning.
But instead of the family returning to Massachusetts with another collection of happy memories, their vacation ended in a horrific crash that claimed members of three generations of the Smith family, including 11-year-old Jaxon and 5-year-old Scarlett, whose twin sister and older sister survived. Julie Smith, 41, the children’s mother, and Josephine Fay, 76, their grandmother, were also killed in the collision.
“You never imagine something like this would happen. There are no words. It’s just tragic, and our heart goes out to this wonderful family,” said Darlene Staples, the director of the Merry Deb Learning Center where the twins attended preschool. As she spoke, on the school’s front steps, a white laminated sign calling for support of the Smith family was taped to the door behind her. Jackson Smith, a sixth-grader in the Whitman-Hanson Regional School District, also once attended the preschool.
The crash in Florida took place around 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, officials said, along a stretch of Route 429 in Kissimmee, about 10 miles from Disney. The Toyota van was carrying eight family members — Shane and Julie Smith; Julie’s parents, Josephine and William Fay, of Weymouth; and the Smiths’ four young children. When the vehicle slowed down because of congestion on the highway, a pickup truck slammed into its rear end, caromed into a second vehicle, and then scratched a third, according to Lieutenant Kim Montes, a spokeswoman for the Florida Highway Patrol.
Montes said the speed limit is 70 miles per hour on that stretch of road, and the pickup truck did not slow down before hitting the van.
“The impact was at full speed,” said Montes, who was among the emergency personnel who responded to the scene of the crash Tuesday night.
Police identified the driver of the truck as 26-year-old Lucas Dos Reis Laurindo of Kissimmee; he was driving a 2016 Dodge truck. No charges have been filed.
Three family members were killed upon impact and were pronounced dead at the scene, according to the Florida Highway Patrol. Eleven-year-old Jackson was airlifted to a local hospital and died Wednesday, the highway patrol said.
Shane Smith, 43, and William Fay, 76, were in stable condition at the Orlando Regional Medical Center, according to police. Michael Finn, a family friend, said Fay suffered a dislocated shoulder and that Shane Smith was badly bruised. According to Finn, Fay said the crash “happened so quick, shockingly fast. . . and then it was over.”
Shalie Smith, 10, and Skylar Smith, 5, were uninjured. Police said everyone but Shane Smith, the father, was wearing a seat belt or child restraint at the time of the crash.
Laurindo, the pickup driver, was uninjured and “distraught,” Montes said, and he voluntarily provided a blood sample that authorities will test for alcohol or other substances that impair drivers. However, Montes said, impairment is not believed to be a factor in the crash. Laurindo does not have a criminal record in Florida, according to state records. He obtained his Florida’s driver license last November and was driving a company pickup at the time of the crash, Montes said.
Montes said Laurindo may face charges, but that decision won’t be made for several weeks while the Florida Highway Patrol conducts a detailed investigation that includes examining data recorders in the vehicles and testing Laurindo’s blood sample. In the meantime, Laurindo will be allowed to drive, she said.
Montes said that despite the regular backup on Route 429 in Kissimmee during rush-hour, she couldn’t find any record of another fatality in the location of Tuesday’s crash.
The operators of the other two vehicles were uninjured, police said.
The Smiths lived with their children in a Colonial-style house in Whitman. They had planned to visit Florida for a week, according to Finn. Julie Smith’s brother flew to Florida Wednesday to bring the rest of the family back to Massachusetts, Finn said.
Julie Smith was a director of training in the human resources department at Liberty Mutual, a company spokeswoman confirmed.
“We are deeply saddened to learn of the tragedy involving the Smith family,” the spokeswoman wrote in an e-mail to the Globe. "Julie was a cherished employee and greatly touched the lives of all her colleagues. We extend our heartfelt condolences to Julie’s family and friends during this incredibly difficult time.”
Shane Smith works in technology at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, the bank confirmed.
Josephine Fay served as a member of the early childhood education faculty at Quincy College from 1993 to 2011, continuing as an adjunct faculty member after her retirement, the college said in a statement. William Fay served as interim dean of the college’s Plymouth campus in 2004, the statement said, and as director of college and community development in 2005-6.
Josephine Fay “was a gifted instructor, and her untimely death saddens us all,” the college’s statement said. “She will be greatly missed by both her colleagues and her students in the Quincy College community. This loss is profoundly felt with the news of the passing of other family members.”
The Whitman-Hanson superintendent, Jeffrey Szymaniak, said in a statement that counseling and administrative teams at the schools had been alerted and plans were in place to support students. The measures will begin immediately, even though the district is on a break.
“We are a huge family in the district,” he said at a news conference Wednesday. "We mourn for them and everyone involved in this tragedy.”
Whitman Youth Soccer is holding a candlelight prayer service for the Smith family at 7 p.m. on Feb. 21 at the Whitman Middle School’s fenced-in field.
Michelle Ashburn, whose 5-year-old was close to Scarlett Smith, and attended the same preschool, teared up as she stood on the school’s steps Wednesday. She remembered Scarlett hugging her daughter goodbye each day, chattering about her upcoming trip to Disney.
Zoe Greenberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @zoegberg. Hanna can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on twitter @hannaskrueger. Emily Sweeney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @emilysweeney. John R. Ellement can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @JREbosglobe. Dugan Arnett can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.