For nine months, Michael and Trudi Hardman had been planning their dream trip to Disney World. They wanted to spend Thanksgiving with their six children in Orlando, riding oversize teacups and exploring space. So on Wednesday, they packed up the 2005 Chevrolet Tahoe and left home in Terrell, Tex., about 30 miles from Dallas.
By the time they reached northern Louisiana, their 16-year-old son, Andrew Hardman, was at the wheel. About 11 p.m., the teenage driver apparently fell asleep on Interstate 20 near Calhoun, a tiny town about an hour east of Shreveport. Police said he veered to the left and then over-corrected to the right. The SUV rolled. Only two were wearing seat belts — the others were ejected from the vehicle.
Both parents and three children were pronounced dead at the scene.
“His parents thought he was a confident driver, so they let him drive,” Louisiana State Trooper Michael Reichardt said, noting he had a driver’s license.
Police identified the victims as parents Michael and Trudi Hardman; sons Dakota Watson, 15, and Adam Hardman, 7; and daughter Kaci Hardman, 4.
Michael Hardman’s brother, Timothy Hardman, said another son, 12-year-old Aaron Hardman, was listed in critical condition at a Shreveport hospital. And the sixth, 12-year-old Hunter Watson, survived with minor injuries.
Andrew Hardman, who was driving, also survived with minimal injuries. Authorities took a toxicology sample, though they said they didn’t think the teen was impaired. He was charged with reckless operation of a vehicle, Reichardt said.
“Our heartfelt condolences go out to all of the people affected by this tragic crash,” Louisiana State Police Superintendent Col. Mike Edmonson said. “Crashes like this one don’t just affect the people involved. They affect family members, friends, troopers, first responders and the community at large.”
Michael and Trudi Hardman were elementary school teachers in Terrell. Michael Hardman taught second grade and coached little league baseball.
“He never turned a kid away,” Timothy Hardman told the Associated Press. “Michael probably had the biggest heart of anybody you ever knew. He just loved kids.”
After the accident, Terrell Independent School District released a statement.
“Today, our Tiger family grieves the tragic loss of one of our team members, Michael Hardman, who was dedicated to his second grade students at J.F. Kennedy Elementary School,” Superintendent Michael French said. “His surviving family members, colleagues, students and friends are in our thoughts and prayers. We must lift each other up during this difficult time.”
Trudi Hardman was a kindergarten teacher at nearby Wills Point Independent School District. Andrew and Dakota were students at Wills Point High School.
“I just kind of broke down when I found out about it. I was scared for my friend, ” Wills Point High School junior Kameron McEnturff told KARD-TV. He said he is close to both boys. “All I know is he was excited about going to Disney all week he was talking about it.”
Principal Jim Lamb said he had talked to Dakota the day before their trip.”I just spoke with the young man yesterday at lunch,” he told KLTV.” I knew they had been looking forward to this trip for a while, just a very exciting time for them.” He added: “They’re here and they’re great kids, then all of the sudden, they’re not. That’s the kick in the gut.”
Timothy Hardman told the AP that Michael and Trudi Hardman were married five years ago and merged their two families. Michael had three boys from a previous marriage, and Trudi had two. Together, they had a daughter, Kaci.
“Our hearts ache as we try to wrap our minds around the tragic loss of our beautiful, blended family,” DJ Hart, stepbrother of Trudi Hardman, told KXAS-TV.
They intended to spend the week at the Florida resort.
“They’ve always talked about it,” Timothy Hardman told the AP. “It was their dream trip. It was an opportunity for them to take all of their kids.”
Hart added: “En route, God had other plans as five members of our family are now enjoying an even happier place.”
Authorities said the crash is still under investigation. According to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, up to 6,000 fatal crashes each year are attributed to drowsy drivers.
A GoFundMe page filled with family photos has been set up online to help pay for medical expenses and burials. By early Friday morning, it had raised more than $5,000.