updated 11/12/2004 9:28:10 AM ET 2004-11-12T14:28:10

A commuter van and a tractor-trailer collided early Friday on a Mississippi River bridge, killing four people and injuring four others, authorities said.

Flames erupted from spilled fuel after the crash happened about 5:45 a.m. on the Martin Luther King Bridge, according to the Illinois Department of Transportation and the St. Louis, Mo., Fire Department.

The 18-wheeler and the RideFinders van, part of a program operated by Illinois’ Madison County Transit, collided in the westbound lanes of the busy bridge, which connects St. Louis on the Missouri side with the city of East St. Louis.

Police said the four dead were all in the van. Those injured were the truck driver and the other three people in the van. An erroneous initial report of one person missing apparently stemmed from the sight of debris falling from the bridge in the predawn darkness, authorities said.

The bridge — one of three spanning the Mississippi at St. Louis — has two lanes in each direction, separated by a double yellow line. Authorities said the bridge would be shut down for several hours in both directions.

According to the RideFinders Web site, the program provides vans to allow groups of commuters to share rides for a monthly fare. Participating groups must have at least seven people, but the vans can accommodate 15 passengers.

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