Valdosta Daily Times

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July 29, 2013

Indianapolis church mourns 3 who died in bus crash

INDIANAPOLIS — An Indianapolis church mourned their youth pastor, his pregnant wife and a congregation member Sunday after the three died when their bus returning from a northern Michigan camp overturned a mile from home.

Saturday’s accident devastated members of Colonial Hills Baptist Church, who had been anticipating a joyful homecoming with the 37 people aboard the bus. The crash killed youth pastor Chad Phelps; his pregnant piano-teacher wife, Courtney Phelps; and chaperone Tonya Weindorf, deacon Jeff Leffew said.

The crash, which happened Saturday afternoon near Interstate 465, injured dozens. Seven teens remained hospitalized Sunday, including one in critical condition. Bus driver Dennis Maurer, a 68-year-old member of the congregation, told authorities that the brakes failed before the church-owned vehicle struck a raised concrete median and flipped on its side, Indianapolis metro police said.

Chad Phelps, the son of the church’s senior pastor, and his wife were both in their mid-20s, Leffew said, and were expecting their second child next month. Chad Phelps had become youth pastor at Colonial Hills late last year, he said.

“ ... We’re going to have a long road, but God is good,” Leffew said Sunday during a news conference.

The Phelpses’ first child, Chase, nearly 2 years old, was among the injured. He was treated and released from a hospital Saturday, IU Health spokeswoman Sally Winter said.

Authorities are still investigating the crash. The bus was nearly finished with a 365-mile journey, overturning just a mile from the church, where parents were waiting to pick up their children after a weeklong camp filled with prayer, zip lines and basketball.

Weindorf, 51, had five children, Leffew said.

“Tonya was at camp because she has a special-needs child who wanted to go, and she wanted to go and make it a good week, and according to her husband, it was a great week, and that’s who Tonya was,” Leffew said.

Leffew, 44, of Fishers, had sent four daughters to Camp CoBeAc, near Prudenville, Mich. Only one daughter was on the bus that pulled into the parking lot, and he raced to the crash site in northern Indianapolis. What he found was surreal — clothing and other items strewn about and windows missing from the bus.

“You’re just praying that it’s not as bad as it looks,” he said Saturday. His daughters escaped with just bumps and bruises.

Indianapolis Public Safety Director Troy Riggs called the crash a “great tragedy.”

“They were not that far from home. ... That only adds to the tragedy,” Riggs said Saturday.

Witness Duane Lloyd told WTHR on Saturday that he heard a loud noise behind him as he was traveling near the intersection and saw the crash around 4:15 p.m. — about the time Chad Phelps had tweeted that the group would arrive at the church.

“I heard a skid. I looked back. I see this bus in the air and people falling out of the bus,” Lloyd said. “I could have gone my whole life without seeing that.”

He said people approached and tried to help.

“People were literally trying to lift the bus,” Lloyd said. “You just try to do what you can do.”

Three teenagers were still at IU Health Methodist Hospital, Winter said Sunday, including one in critical condition. Four teenagers remained at the Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health. Many of the patients had head, arm and leg injuries, fire officials said.

Leffew thanked rescue workers and good Samaritans who tried to help after the crash, as well as local churches and businesses that have offered their support.

“We are so grateful for that outpouring of love and care,” he said Sunday.

 

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