Five from Taylor University killed when semi strikes van


Marion, Ind., April 26, 2006 -  A semitrailer crashed through an Interstate 69 median and collided with a Taylor University van Wednesday night, killing five people and injuring five others, police said.
All of those killed were believed to be Taylor students or employees who were traveling back to the school's Upland campus after working to set up for a Thursday banquet at its Fort Wayne campus, school spokesman Jim Garringer said.
The collision happened about two miles north of the Marion exit in Grant County, closing the interstate in both directions, state police Sgt. Rodger Popplewell said.
The dead have been identified as: 22-year-old Elizabeth Smith of Mount Zion, Illinois, 22-year old Bradley Larson of Elm Gove, Wisconsin, 18-year-old Whitney Cerak of Gaylord, Michigan, 53-year-old Monica Felver of Hartford City and 20-year-old Laurel Erb of St. Charles, Illinois.
Garringer said at least two school vans were bringing students back to the Upland campus. Only one van was involved in the crash.
"We have a list of names, but we're still trying to narrow down who was in the van," he said.
Popplewell said a preliminary investigation showed the northbound semi drove through the median into the southbound lanes about 8 p.m., colliding with the passenger van about midway between Fort Wayne and Indianapolis. The collision peeled open the side of the van, and several of the occupants were ejected, he said.
Two of the injured, both passengers in the van, were taken by helicopter to Parkview Hospital in Fort Wayne. Three others, including the semi driver, were taken by ambulance to Marion General Hospital.
Taylor, an evangelical Christian liberal arts school, has some 1,900 students at its main campus in Upland, a Grant County town about 10 miles from the crash site.
A prayer service in the campus chapel was planned for late Wednesday as word of the deadly crash reached students, Garringer said. Classes at the Upland campus were canceled for Thursday.
"We're living a nightmare," he said. "Certainly a great deal of grief, an outpouring of emotion. The students who died and staff member were very well loved in the Taylor University community and just a tremendous sense of shock and sadness following the news."
Another Taylor van was following the one involved in the crash, but it had pulled off the highway to refuel and came up on the accident scene soon after it happened, Garringer said.      

Taylor has operated the Fort Wayne campus since 1992, and Garringer said he knew of no other serious accidents involving school employees and students making the trip between the campuses about 50 miles apart.
"It is a normal procedure for us to have workers move in between our Upland and Fort Wayne campuses," he said.       
(The Associated Press and WTHR Staff, All Rights Reserved.)