15-passenger vans have known dangers

By Roslyn Giles  - email | bio

COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - The deadly church van crash on Sunday was not the first tragedy of its kind to hit the valley. In fact, two other groups experienced the same tragic ordeal.

Back in 1999, a church van crashed on Interstate-185 killing three.  And in 2002, a van flipped on the same highway, killing a boy. The 1999 accident involved a youth group from St. James CME Church on Northstar Drive in Columbus. A Bread of Life Christian Church van was returning from a youth trip in Atlanta when it overturned in 2002.

In both accidents, the drivers lost control of the wheel, flipping the vehicles several times and ejecting the passengers.

Brittany Bell, 19, was among the children on the Bread of Life van. Just 11 years old at the that, she suffered major body trauma and developed scoliosis, a curving of the spine. "I remember, we were all asleep and waking up screaming saying Jesus help me. I saw people flying inside the van."

Brittany's mom, Tonia Bell,  recalls getting the phone call. "The man said,"I am traveling behind one of your church vans and it's flipping over with kids falling out all over the place."

William Kendrick from St. James CME also told News Leader 9, it was chaos when he arrived to their scene near LaGrange. " I got to the hospital and I was told one child had died, the one they were working died shortly after. Kendrick's two sons who were also on the van sustained several injuries, but survived.

Church van accidents became so prevalent, that it gained national attention.  A Texas church van accident killing eight passengers prompted the National Transportation Safety Board to launch an investigation in 2003.

It uncovered a nationwide problem and published an article, What Churches Don't Know About Motor coaches Can Be Deadly.

The report pointed out numerous shortcomings in these vehicles and it said groups were operating unsafe commercial motor carriers.

Also In 2003, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration sited several reasons why 15- passenger vans are dangerous.

The NHTSA said they are designed to carry cargo not people. It also said they become top heavy and are prone to rollovers when fully loaded.  

In addition, the NHTSA said the side glass windows make it less likely to keep passengers from being ejected. 

Mothers like, Tonia Bell, say more needs to be done. " I just want to see them do something to stop this from happening," said Bell.

News Leader 9 has compiled a few links from the NTSB and the NHTSA. We also found a link on the Christianity Today website that has a quiz. You can use that quiz to test your knowledge on the safety of passenger vans.

Additional Links:

Reducing the risk of a rollover in a 15-passenger van
What churches don't know about motor coaches can be deadly
Church Van Quiz

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