NY Thruway Crash Kills 6. Could Van be to Blame?

It took five medical helicopters and an assortment of other emergency vehicles to transport the survivors of a fatal car accident that killed six of 14 parishioners from the Joy Fellowship Christian Assemblies, this weekend. Auto safety experts are pointing to the van that carried the members of Bronx church.

The accident shut down the New York State Thruway after a tire blew, causing the van to crash and eject nine of its passengers, hospitalizing eight, with four in critical condition, said USA Today, which noted that the group was on its way to a banquet in nearby Schenectady, New York.

NY State police identified those who were killed as the Reverend Simon White, the church’s bishop; Reverend White’s wife, Zelda, the church’s pastor; The Reverend Titus McGhie, an assistant pastor; Avril Murray; Evelyn Ferguson; and Elaine Reid. The bishop and pastor’s daughter, Charlene Mandrie, and Massey Gillespie, who are in critical condition, along with Nanda Richards, who’s injuries are described as “life-threatening,” were all brought to Valhalla’s Westchester Medical Center.

Miriam Edwards, who is also suffering with life-threatening injuries, was taken with three others to Good Samaritan; Edwards was transferred to Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx. Veronica Francis, Judith Richards, and Joan Davis are also in critical condition and Bernard Lallibeaudiere, driver of the van, was taken to Saint Francis Hospital in Poughkeepsie, said USA Today, citing state police.

The group of 14 was in a 16-passenger Ford van, according to State police Sergeant James Whittel, who noted that the van was traveling north when its left, rear tire exploded at 2:59 that afternoon, wrote USA Today. The van then swerved and the driver’s attempts to correct the swerve failed, causing the van to roll and eject most of its passengers, wrote USA Today. The nine were strewn on the road, said USA Today, when responders reached the scene.

“It was a giant triage area,” Whittel said, describing that section of the NY Thruway that was shut down in both directions following the crash, quoted USA Today. “They were throwing them in ambulances, throwing them in helicopters, getting them wherever they needed to be,” Whittel added. The driver and front seat passenger were the only two occupants wearing seat belts and all occupants were adult men and women, 11 women and three men, according to USA Today.

According to auto-safety expert, Byron Bloch, said the NY Post, the deaths were avoidable and due to the van’s safety flaws. “This tragedy was fully preventable but for the needlessly unsafe design of the Ford van,” said Bloch, an expert witness who has testified in a number of court cases concerning vehicle safety, reported the NY Post.

Bloch described the 1997 Ford Econoline as a 15-passenger van constructed with a “high center of gravity, a narrow wheel base, and a poor suspension system,” wrote the Post. This combination places stress on the vehicle’s rear tires, exaggerated when the van is filled to near capacity, noted USA Today. Bloch said shatterproof glass would have stopped passengers from being flung through the van’s windows and onto the thruway.

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