Investigators expect to pinpoint cause of deadly church bus crash

Chad and Courtney Phelps with son Chase
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One more victim of a deadly weekend bus crash have been released from the hospital.

IU Health had previously reported that two more teenagers had been released, but have since revised that, saying there are still two teenagers at Riley Hospital for Children. They are both in good condition.

One patient remains in good condition at IU Health Methodist Hospital.

Two people are still being treated at St. Vincent Hospital.

The five teenagers have been hospitalized since a bus from Colonial Hills Baptist Church crashed on the north side of Indianapolis, killing three adults and an unborn child.

Local, state and federal investigators are still trying to determine exactly what caused the crash.

Indiana State Police are focusing on the mechanical elements of the bus.

Because the bus driver said he noticed brake problems just before the crash, inspectors from ISP's Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Division have been closely examining the bus' brake pads, brake drums, brake rods and any skid marks on the pavement of North Keystone Avenue to see if they can find evidence of a massive brake failure.

"If you were to see something like that, it would verify or help verify the person's story that the brakes did not work," ISP First Sgt. Ty Utterback told WTHR Monday afternoon. "Our inspectors are conducting a complete Level One inspection, and we're not ruling anything out."

ISP is also reviewing safety records for the bus, but that job is not an easy one. 

School buses and commercial motor coaches that sell tickets to passengers must keep very detailed safety and inspection information right on board.

That is not the case for motor coaches classified as private, non-business passenger motor carriers, such as those owned and operated by churches.  The bus involved in Saturday's deadly crash must be inspected at least once each year, but federal rules exempt churches from having to maintain records to prove that such inspections on church motor coaches took place.

When asked the last time the Colonial Hills Baptist Church bus was inspected prior to the weekend crash, Utterback admitted investigators may have to dig to determine that information.

"I don't know. I just don't know," he said. "The rules for churches can, in some situations, present us with a challenge."

The church says it is cooperating with the police investigation, but a spokesman hired by the church told 13 Investigates he is not willing to share any inspection information with Eyewitness News.

WTHR has obtained more information about the driver. 

State records show he does have a valid commercial driver's license to operate a large motor coach, and he has no major violations on his recent driving record.

Indiana State Police say they are conducting their own investigation on the driver.

In the meantime, IMPD will spend the coming days and weeks interviewing passengers and witnesses and re-creating the crash scene. 

Eyewitness News has learned the Marion County Prosecutor's office and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration are also now involved in this case to consult with law enforcement.

Investigators are confident they will find a cause of the fatal crash.

"I'd say in the majority of all cases that I've been involved with the cause has come out and we've been able to identify what actually caused the crash," Utterback said. "I expect we'll find one here, too."

While ISP expects to complete its portion of the investigation within a week, the entire investigation may take a month or longer.

Funeral arrangements

Funeral arrangements have been made for three people killed in a bus crash Saturday.

Visitation for Tonya Weindorf will be held Thursday from 3-7 p.m and her funeral will be held Friday at 10:30 a.m. Visitation for Chad and Courtney Phelps will be held from 3-7 p.m. on Friday, with the couple's funeral Saturday at 11 a.m.

All services will be held at Colonial Hills Baptist Church.


The crash left three dead and sent 26 to Indianapolis-area hospitals on Saturday.

The Colonial Hills Baptist Church youth group was returning from summer camp in Michigan when the bus struck the concrete barrier on Keystone Ave. after exiting I-465 at a high rate of speed.

Indiana State Police's motor carrier division is assisting the Indianapolis Metro Police Department and the Marion County Prosecutor's Office in the investigation. The motor carrier division will help with the mechanical portion of the probe.

Also, reconstruction specialists from the Fatal Alcohol Crash Team (FACT Team) will assist in the investigation. The findings of this investigation will be turned over to FACT Team prosecutor in The Marion County Prosecutor's Office for review.

The FACT Team includes specialized officers from agencies that include: The Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department (IMPD), Lawrence Police Department, Speedway Police Department, Indiana State Police, Marion County Prosecutor's Office, and other agencies that respond when called upon.

Victims recovering

Five crash victims remained in the hospital as of 4:00 pm Monday.

IU Health Methodist Hospital is treating one teenage patient in good condition. Two other patients were recently treated and released. Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health is still treating two teenagers in good condition. Two people are still being treated at St. Vincent Hospital.

Youth minister Chad Phelps and his wife Courtney were killed in the crash, along with their unborn child. They were expecting the baby next month. Their two-year-old son Chase survived the crash.

An online fundraiser has raised $15,000 for the Phelps' son. So far no fundraiser has been organized for the third person killed in the crash, Tonya Weindorf, a mother of five who was accompanying her son on the camp trip.

Bus crash facts

About 750 million passengers travel on motorcoaches per year, according to the United States Dept. of Transportation. Between 2001 and 2010, an average of 17 people died in bus crashes per year.

Rollover crashes account for 61 percent of motorcoach occupant deaths.  There were 171 fatalities in 49 events from 2001 to 2010, according to the NHTSA's Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS).

The NHTSA is looking at new rules requiring stability control on buses that would reduce the number of rollover crashes.  The agency is also working on developing new rules to make the roofs and roof supports stronger on motorcoaches to better protect passengers in a rollover.  The idea is to "substantially improve the resistance of motorcoach roofs to deformation and intrusion to prevent serious occupant injury in rollover crashes."