3 Die from Injuries in Church Van Rollover

Date: November 12, 2009
Location: I-84 near Baker City, Oregon
Names: Phillip Joel Harris, Joshua John Pischura, Taune Nicole Winter Pepper

According to KATU.com, Phillip Joel Harris, of Attalla, Alabama, became the latest casualty of an early-morning freeway crash near Baker City, Oregon, where a church van carrying 16 people rolled on icy roads. Harris, 24, died November 22, 2009, at a hospital in Boise, Idaho. Joshua John Pischura, 20, of Geneva, Ohio, died shortly after the crash November 12, 2009, and Taune Nicole Winter Pepper, 23, of Deer Trail, Colorado, died later the same day.

The accident occurred around 5:20 AM, as a van carrying members of a Colorado church group was heading west on an icy stretch of I-84. The van went out of control, veered off the road, and rolled several times, coming to rest on its roof. Fourteen people were taken to various hospitals. In an earlier report, KATU.com said nearly everyone in the van was thrown from the vehicle. All of the college-age survivors were hurt in the crash, and some had critical injuries.

Five seriously or critically injured passengers were flown to Boise-area hospitals. Three others were transported to a hospital in La Grande, Oregon. Six were treated and released from St. Elizabeth Health Services in Baker City, Oregon.

The driver was reportedly wearing a seat belt and suffered non-life-threatening injuries; it was not known how many others were wearing safety restraints.

The nine women and seven men in the van were on part of a church training program called Rocky Mountain Masters Commission. They were en route to a Portland conference to work and raise money for the discipleship program, doing tasks such as ushering. As part of their church program, the students lived dorm-style at New Life Worship Center in Federal Heights, Colorado, while attending classes leading to a minister’s license.

Some of the van’s passengers were from Denver, some from Florida and Utah, and one woman was from Iraq. Survivors’ names were not released.

As of November 19, according to Oregonlive.com, an investigation was continuing, including personnel from Oregon, Idaho, and Colorado.

As church and community members throughout the Northwest join together to mourn and pray, we add our prayers to the many going out on behalf of the survivors. It is truly tragic whenever a life is cut short, but perhaps especially so with these dedicated young people with a dream of the ministry. We hope that all the survivors continue to recover, and the aftermath of this crash will not take any more dreams.

When a person tries to correct the wheel while driving, a car should skid, not roll over. It should be very difficult to make a car roll over. However, it’s an unfortunate truth that there are some models and makes of vehicles that roll over very easily. These makes and models are well known and there have been successful lawsuits against the companies who build, sell and profit from these vehicles. When a vehicle rolls over it may be entirely driver error or it may be partially driver error and partially poor design.

The difference is that the driver error is to be expected. We all know that drivers sometimes make errors and sometimes a quick correction is necessary, for example, when a deer runs in the road or even a cow. A driver should be able to jerk the wheel, make a sudden maneuver around an obstacle or to correct a drift without the car flipping over and killing everyone inside it.

In addition to being more stable and less likely to roll over, a car should be designed so that if it does roll over, there is enough strength and stability in the roof that the people inside don’t get crushed. Whenever there’s a rollover crash like this one causing serious injury or even death it may be easy to blame the driver. But there is another very important factor. And that is the companies who are making this car who know very well that the car is dangerous but who do nothing to correct it because it would cut into their bottom line.