July 29, 2013

Indianapolis church mourns three who died in bus crash

The youth pastor, his pregnant wife and a chaperone were killed when a church bus overturned. Six teenagers remain hospitalized.

The Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS — An Indianapolis congregation on Sunday mourned the deaths of their youth pastor, his pregnant wife and another member who were killed when a church bus overturned with just a mile to go in a return trip from a Michigan summer camp.

click image to enlarge

Indiana State Police investigators inspect the underside of a bus that crashed Saturday on the north side of Indianapolis while carrying teenagers returning from a summer camp in Michigan. Three people were killed and 26 others were taken to local hospitals.

The Associated Press

Saturday's accident devastated members of Colonial Hills Baptist Church, who had been anticipating a joyful homecoming with the 37 people who were aboard the bus. Youth pastor Chad Phelps, his pregnant piano-teacher wife, Courtney Phelps, and chaperone Tonya Weindorf were killed, said deacon Jeff Leffew.

Dozens of people were injured in the crash, which happened near Interstate 465. On Sunday, six teenagers remained hospitalized, including one who was in critical condition.

Dennis Maurer, a 68-year-old congregation member who was driving the church-owned bus, told authorities that its brakes failed before it struck a raised concrete median and flipped on its side, Indianapolis police said.

The Phelpses, who were in their mid-20s, were expecting their second child, Leffew said. Chad Phelps was the son of the church's senior pastor and became its youth pastor late last year, he said.

"We're going to have a long road, but God is good," Leffew said at a Sunday news conference.

The couple's nearly 2-year-old child, Chase, was injured in the crash. He was treated and released from a hospital Saturday, IU Health spokeswoman Sally Winter said.

The bus had nearly completed its 365-mile journey from Camp CoBeAc, near Prudenville, Mich., when it overturned about a mile from the church, where parents were waiting to pick up their children who had just spent a week praying, zip-lining and playing basketball.

Weindorf, the 51-year-old chaperone who was killed, had five children, Leffew said.

"Tonya was at camp because she has a special-needs child who wanted to go, and she wanted to go and make it a good week, and according to her husband, it was a great week, and that's who Tonya was," said Leffew, who sent four of his own daughter to the camp.

Leffew, of Fishers, said only one of his daughters was on a second bus that pulled into the parking lot, and that he raced to the northern Indianapolis crash site. What he found was surreal — clothing and other items strewn about and windows missing from the bus.

"You're just praying that it's not as bad as it looks," he said Saturday. His daughters escaped with bumps and bruises.

Troy Riggs, Indianapolis' public safety director, called the crash a "great tragedy."

"They were not that far from home. ... That only adds to the tragedy," Riggs said Saturday.

Duane Lloyd, who witnessed the crash, told WTHR that he saw the crash happen at about 4:15 p.m., which was about the time Chad Phelps tweeted that the group would arrive at the church.

"I heard a skid. I looked back. I see this bus in the air and people falling out of the bus," Lloyd said. "I could have gone my whole life without seeing that."

He said people approached and tried to help.

"People were literally trying to lift the bus," Lloyd said. "You just try to do what you can do."

Three of the six hospitalized teens, including the one in critical condition, were at IU Health Methodist Hospital, Winter said Sunday. The other three were at the Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health. Many of the patients had head, arm and leg injuries, fire officials said.

Leffew thanked rescue workers and good Samaritans who tried to help after the crash, as well as local churches and businesses that have offered their support.

"We are so grateful for that outpouring of love and care," he said Sunday.

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