Sunday, September 19, 2010

Another Tragedy: Six dead in church 15-passenger van's N.Y. Thruway crash

Six members of a church group were killed in New York Saturday when this van rolled over.

By Shawn Cohen, Hema Easley and Candice Ferrette, The (Westchester, N.Y.) Journal News

Click here to read original article in USA Today.

WOODBURY, N.Y. — Six people were killed Saturday afternoon on the New York State Thruway after a tire blew on a church van, sending the vehicle tumbling and ejecting nine passengers.

Eight others were hospitalized last night, half of them in critical condition. The group was on its way from Joy Fellowship Christian Assemblies in the Bronx to a banquet in Schenectady, N.Y.

The dead were identified by state police as the church's bishop, the Rev. Simon White; his wife, Zelda White; the church pastor, the Rev. Titus McGhie; Avril Murray; Evelyn Ferguson; and Elaine Reid.

State police Sgt. James Whittel said the 16-passenger Ford van was traveling northbound in the left lane when the left rear tire burst at 2:59 p.m. The van swerved over the rumble strip, and the driver overcorrected to the right, leading the vehicle to roll several times.

Responders said nine people were lying on the road when they arrived.

"It was a giant triage area," Whittel said of the section where the Thruway, which is two lanes in each direction, was shut down. "They were throwing them in ambulances, throwing them in helicopters, getting them wherever they needed to be."

State police said the van belonged to a church on East Gun Hill Road. Whittel said the van was registered to an address in Port Chester.

Only the driver and the front-seat passenger were wearing seat belts, Whittel said. All were adults, men and women.

State police said last night they were going to interview the driver at Good Samaritan Hospital for their investigation.

At least four of the injured were critical last night, hospital officials said. Whittel said one victim was unresponsive while being taken away.

The last body was removed by ambulance about 6:30 p.m. The gray van had its roof crushed downward. All the doors were gone, likely removed by firefighters. Glass littered the pavement.

"I have never been to a scene like that," state police Maj. Robert Meyers said last night at a Troop T barracks. "My heart goes out to them."

"My first thought was for the families. My second is, we're going to put a full-court press on this to see what happened."

Police said there was no indication that speed or alcohol played a role in the tragedy.

Of the 14 in the van, 11 were women, 3 were men. Five medical helicopters were used to transport victims to neighboring hospitals.

Three of the injured were taken to Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla. They are the bishop's daughter, Charlene Mandrie, and Massey Gillespie, both in critical condition, and Nanda Richards, whose injuries were life-threatening.

Four others were taken to Good Samaritan. One of them, Miriam Edwards, suffered life-threatening injuries and was transferred to Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx.

The others in critical condition are Veronica Francis, Judith Richards and Joan Davis.

The driver, Bernard Lallibeaudiere, 52, of the Bronx, was taken to Saint Francis Hospital in Poughkeepsie, state police said.

All northbound traffic was shut down for hours between exits 16 and 17, while one southbound lane was also closed to allow emergency vehicles to pass.

Northbound traffic was diverted off Exit 16 through Harriman. Lanes began opening again about 8 p.m.

Deborah Marshall, a spokeswoman for Good Samaritan Hospital, confirmed that four victims were brought there.

"We received four individuals," she said about 5:30 p.m. "Two are in critical condition and two are being triaged. All are women."

One was being stabilized for transport by helicopter to another hospital about 6 p.m.

Click here to read original article in USA Today.