CALLAHAN, Fla. — PHOTO GALLERY: Callahan mom, 2 kids killed after car strikes alligator
A family from Callahan was killed early Monday morning in Orangeburg, S.C. when their vehicle struck a 9-foot alligator in the middle of the road on Interstate 95, according to the South Carolina Highway Patrol.
Amber Stanley, 24; her 4-year-old son Jack and her 2-year-old daughter Autumn, all of Callahan; died from their injuries due to the vehicle fire.
South Carolina Highway Patrol troopers said the crash occurred around 12:49 a.m. Monday in the northbound lane of I-95 when the family's 2011 Kia Soul struck the alligator in the road.
Josh Stanley, Amber's husband and the father of Jack and Autumn, said his family was returning from a weekend in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
Stanley said that he and Amber were high school sweethearts at Yulee High School.
"She was the love of my life," Stanley said. "We would’ve been together coming up on 10 years."
Stanley couldn't go to the beach with his wife and children because he had to attend work training out of state.
"When I landed in Atlanta, I couldn’t get a hold of her," Stanley said. "The last thing I said was, ‘I love you, and I’ll talk to you later.’
"The last time I talked to my kids is when I was leaving. I hugged them and I said I loved them and I’d see them in a week -- and I was going to miss them."
Troopers said after the car hit the gator, it ran off the left side of the road hitting a tree and caught on fire.
A detailed crash report has not yet been released.
Josh Stanley is now his family's sole survivor.
On Tuesday afternoon, he was at Ewing Park, a place he and his wife and children visited often.
“It’s been hard. I mean, I know it happened. I’m still kind of processing though. I’ll be walking around and I’ll just, like, see something out of the corner of my eye, I go, ‘that’s Amber,’ and I know it’s not, but it’s just the first thing my brain goes to. Or, some kids say ‘dad’ or something,” he said.
Stanley said the last time he saw his children, he was hugging them, letting them know he’d miss them while he’d be away for work.
But later, he’d quickly realize something was wrong when he couldn’t reach his wife, Amber, during his layover.
“When I landed in Atlanta, I just couldn’t get a hold of her,” Stanley said. “The last thing I said was, ‘I love you, and I’ll talk to you later.’ But I think that’s what you kind of expect, ‘Oh, OK, I’ll talk to you later.’ You don’t expect something like this to happen.”
Stanley is left with questions he knows he may never get answered.
“Everybody keeps saying, ‘If you need anything, let me know,” Stanley said. “I don’t really need anything. I’d love to have my family back, but obviously, nobody can do that.”
Josh Stanley said his wife loved animals, loved to visit the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens and had a zoo membership. A memorial for the family will be held at the zoo at 6:30 p.m. Sunday, which is Mother's Day and also would have been Amber's birthday.