A group of young missionaries with Victorious Christian Harvesters (VCH) had just completed a successful missions trip to Mexico City. The team of staff and interns was returning from Mexico City to Laredo, Texas where VCH’s U.S. Base is located.
On Sunday, June 30 2002 at 6:30pm, just outside of Monterrey, Mexico, the left rear tread separated from the new tire on one of our Ford E-350 15-passenger vans. Because of the tread separation, the driver was unable to keep the van straight. The van swerved to the left and went slightly off the road onto the meridian, then slid sideways on the road. The wheel’s rim dug into the road pavement and launched the vehicle into the air.
The van landed upside-down on the right passenger side, rolled two more times, hit a guard rail, and finally ended up upside-down on the side of the road. There were 10 people riding in the 1998 Ford E-350 van. Of the 5 passengers on the right side of the van, 3 were killed and two suffered extreme injuries.
Jonnathan Lomeli, who was in the front passenger seat, died at the scene. Jonnathan was VCH’s newest staff member He and his wife, Christine, were expecting twins. The twins were born in November 2002, six months AFTER the accident. Jonnathan was sitting in the front passenger seat and was wearing a seatbelt. Jonnathan’s head was crushed when the van’s roof collapsed during the rollover.
Malori Smith (bottom of picture), Bethany Bosarge (top of picture), and Becky Blanchard were thrown from the van. Malori died at the accident scene. Bethany suffered major brain injuries and went into a coma. After three days of no brain activity, Bethany was released from life support and joined Malori & Jonnathan in heaven. Becky Blanchard suffered severe head injuries, 2 broken ribs, a ruptured spleen, a damaged lung and cuts all over her body. After undergoing plastic surgery, Becky was in a coma for days. She then had her jaw repaired and then a blood vessel ruptured in her forehead. After much prayer, Becky Blanchard recovered and is currently serving full-time at VCH.
After the accident, the families discovered how dangerous these vans were and that vans were going to continue to kill innocent victims. On behalf of the 10 victims that were riding in the van, the families decided to sue Ford because of the inherent defects in the Ford E-350 van. After only two days of trial, Ford agreed to settle the case to the satisfaction of the families involved.
During the trial, the families heard clearly that Ford would never issue a recall of the E-350 on its own. Ford, GM, and Dodge have no intention of ever fixing the existing 500,000 15-passenger vans on the road today. It is much cheaper for Ford to settle lawsuits than to do a recall of existing vans. So, whether our families won, lost, or settled our lawsuit, nothing was being done to make the existing vans safer. The government has issued three (3) warnings, but has done nothing to make existing vans safer.
We decided to make a difference.
During our trial, we discovered that several modifications could be made to existing vans to make them safer. We are not engineers, but we witnessed tests performed by professional drivers that demonstrated dual rear-wheels made 15-passenger vans safer. We decided to create a website that would educate people about the dangers of these vans.
The goal of Van Angels is to save lives, one van at a time. We can do this through education, legislation, and how-to information contained on this website.
On January 26, 2008, we placed three crosses at the accident site. Here’s a video of David Blanchard, the Director of VCH, dedicating the crosses and the simple memorial we placed there.