Flames engulf vehicles after a fiery crash along Interstate 75 on Thursday, Jan. 3, 2019, about a mile south of Alachua, near Gainesville, Fla. Highway officials say at least seven people have died after a crash and diesel fuel spill sparked a massive fire along the Florida interstate.
AP—AP
By Katie Reilly
January 4, 2019

A federal investigation into the deadly multi-vehicle crash in Florida that killed seven people Thursday, including five children heading to Disney World, has been delayed due to the government shutdown over President Trump’s demand for a border wall.

Investigators for the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) — which is tasked with determining the cause of significant highway, railroad and aviation accidents — are currently furloughed because of the partial government shutdown and will not be able to investigate the Florida crash until the shutdown has ended, ABC News reported.

The crash occurred when a big rig and a passenger vehicle collided on a highway in north Florida, crossed the median and hit another big truck and passenger van traveling in the opposite direction, erupting in fire. Five children in a van traveling to Disney World from Louisiana were killed in the crash, along with two truck drivers. Six to eight people were transported to the hospital with injuries, authorities said Friday.

A spokesperson for the NTSB did not respond to requests for comment on Friday. An automatic email response and answering machine message said that “due to the lapse in appropriations,” media relations staff have been furloughed and will not be releasing further information until the shutdown has ended.

The shutdown — which began Dec. 22 — has affected other NTSB investigations, including the probe into deadly gas explosions that caused dozens of house fires in Massachusetts in September. Several vehicle crashes, rail accidents and small-plane crashes that occurred during the past two weeks have also not yet been investigated by the NTSB, the Washington Post reported.

Meanwhile, the Florida Highway Patrol is currently investigating the cause of Thursday’s crash, which has been classified as a traffic homicide.

“We’ve done what we normally do in our protocol, which is notify the NTSB. And we’re going to continue to do what our investigators do best. These are our experts, so we’re going to be open to whatever the NTSB needs. But it’s not going to change that what we do day in and day out under very difficult circumstances,” Lt. Patrick Riordan of the Florida Highway Patrol said at a press conference on Friday, when asked about the delay of an NTSB investigation due to the shutdown.

“Our homicide investigators — they do this on a daily basis. They’re the best of the best,” Riordan said. “There’s no doubt in my mind they’re going to be able to conclude what transpired in this tragic event.”

Write to Katie Reilly at Katie.Reilly@time.com.

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