Youth pastor, wife, chaperone died in bus crash


Associated Press

Posted on July 28, 2013 at 4:05 PM

Updated Sunday, Jul 28 at 4:07 PM

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The youth pastor of an Indianapolis church and his pregnant wife were among the three dead in the weekend crash of a bus carrying children returning from a youth camp, a church leader said Sunday.

Dozens were injured in the crash, which happened Saturday afternoon on an interstate highway exit ramp. Bus driver Dennis Maurer, 68, told authorities that the brakes failed before the vehicle struck a raised concrete median and flipped on its side.

Youth pastor Chad Phelps and his wife, Courtney Phelps, were expecting their second child next month, Colonial Hills Baptist Church deacon Jeff Leffew said at a news conference. Chad Phelps is the son of the church's main pastor, Charles Phelps.

Tonya Weindorf, a mother of five who was a chaperone on the trip to the northern Michigan youth camp, also died, Leffew said.

"Our church grieves now. We grieve the fact that they're not here now. We miss them," Leffew said.

A toddler who was among the injured passengers was Chad and Courtney Phelps' son, Leffew said. The church's website says the son's name is Chase and he is almost 2. IU Health spokeswoman Sally Winter said Sunday that the toddler had been released from the hospital.

The investigation into the crash is ongoing, authorities said. The bus was nearly finished with a 365-mile (587-kilometer) journey, overturning just a mile (1.6 kilometers) from the church, where parents were waiting to pick up their children after a weeklong camp filled with prayer, zip lines and basketball.

Leffew, 44, had sent four daughters to Camp CoBeAc, near Prudenville, Michigan. 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 a surreal scene, with 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. His daughters escaped with just bumps and bruises.

Witnesses described a horrifying scene.

Duane Lloyd told WTHR 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."

Sasha Sample, 28, told The Indianapolis Star some victims were lying in the road, while others were able to limp to the side.

Sample, a nurse, said she borrowed a belt to make a tourniquet for the bus driver's arm but wasn't able to help the man next to him, who was already dead.

"I couldn't do anything for him," Sample said. "So you triage. You help those you can."

Fire officials said 37 people were on the bus. Three teenagers were still at IU Health Methodist Hospital, Winter said Sunday, including one in critical condition. Five 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.


Associated Press reporter Tom Murphy contributed to this story.