By The Associated Press
Monday, October 22, 2007 9:50 PM EDT
INDIANAPOLIS – Federal regulators have warned for years that overcrowded 15-passenger vans or those with improperly inflated tires can pose a higher risk of rollovers.
Police say a tire blowout may have caused a van carrying 16 Amish passengers to flip over on Interstate 69 near Muncie Sunday, killing three children and two adults and injuring 11 others.
A hole was found in the tire, which could have caused it to deflate and the driver to lose control of the van, said Sgt. Rod Russell with the Indiana State Police.
The van’s owner and driver was Melvin Fisher, who died in the accident along with his wife and three children. Four other children in the family survived, as did seven members of another family traveling in the van.
It is not clear whether anyone was wearing seat belts, police said.
The Amish families were traveling home from a church function. Although Amish generally shun modern conveniences, some members drive vehicles.
State police said five Rockville family members were killed in
the accident: Melvin Fisher, 39; his wife, Savilla Fisher, whose age was not known; and their sons, Ruben, 16; Christian, 11; and 1-year-old Eli.
Seven members of Steve Lengacher’s family were injured.
‘‘All we can believe is that the Lord had his hand on it and that his ways are not our ways,” Lengacher told WISH-TV in Indianapolis. ‘‘I would not choose this way, but his ways are as far above ours, as the heavens are from the earth.”
Californian Mark Smith’s 17-year-old daughter died in a van rollover in 2002.
‘‘I really feel for them,” Smith said. ‘‘I know what they’re going through.”
Smith now runs a group called Van Angels, which aims to save lives by educating people about what he considers the dangers of 15-passenger vans, which are popular with church groups, sports teams and others who need to transport large groups of people.
A 2005 study from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that 74 percent of all 15-passenger vans had at least one tire that was improperly inflated. In comparison, about 40 percent of passengers cars had an improperly inflated tire.
State police were still examining the van in the I-69 crash.
The highway safety agency has also found that when the vans have 10 or more passengers, they have a rollover rate that is nearly three times higher than when they have fewer than five occupants.
Russ Rader, a spokesman with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, noted that the vans have a higher center of gravity than cars.
‘‘As you add people, the center of gravity gets even higher,” he said.
Van manufacturers had added stability control to help prevent rollovers. And safety officials also stress the importance of wearing seat belts in large vans.
The safety agency says between 1990 and 2003, nearly 80 percent of those who died in rollovers in the 15-passenger vans were unbuckled. In contrast, 91 percent of those wearing seat belts in fatal, single-vehicle rollovers in the vans survived.
The agency has tried to raise safety awareness in the large vans in recent years following some deadly accidents.