2 dead, 14 hurt in eastern Oregon van rollover

AP News
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Posted: Nov 13, 2009 5:17 AM

Nearly everyone aboard a van carrying 16 Colorado church group members was likely thrown from the vehicle when it rolled several times on an icy Oregon highway and killed two people, according to state police.

The 14 college-age survivors were all injured, some critically, as the van veered out of control and rolled Thursday on Interstate 84 near Baker City in eastern Oregon.

Their church, the New Life Worship Center in Federal Heights, Colo., held a candlelight vigil Thursday night and set up a fund at a local bank to help the families.

Joshua John Pischura, 20, of Geneva, Ohio, died shortly after the crash, while Taune Nicole Winter Pepper, 23, of Deer Trail, Colo., died Thursday afternoon after being flown to a Boise, Idaho hospital, authorities said.

Five other passengers with serious or critical injuries were also flown to Boise. Three were taken to a hospital in La Grande, Ore.; and six were treated and released from St. Elizabeth Health Services in Baker City, Oregon State Police said.

State police said they believe that at least 13 of those aboard were ejected during the crash.

The nine women and seven men were members of the Rocky Mountain Masters Commission, a training program affiliated with the New Life Worship Center, said Christy Gimer, center spokeswoman. They were on their way to a conference in Portland to earn money working as ushers and doing other tasks.

Gimer said about a third of the people in the van were from the Denver area. She said others were from Florida and Utah, and one woman was from Iraq. She declined to provide names or conditions of any of the survivors.

She described the New Life Worship Center as a church facility where students live in dorms, take classes and earn their minister's license. She said 10 students stayed behind and didn't make the trip to Oregon. Grief counselors were being provided to those students.

"People here are devastated," Gimer said. "They are gathering in the church for prayers. We are going to keep the church open throughout the evening for them."

The wreck happened at about 5:20 a.m. when the 2002 Ford van encountered icy conditions on the freeway that links Oregon to Idaho. The driver, Nicole Elaine Byrd, was wearing a seat belt and suffered non-life-threatening injuries. But 13 of the 16 people aboard are believed to have been ejected, troopers said.

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Oregon State Police said its investigation is ongoing and it has yet to determine how many passengers were wearing seat belts.

The Rev. John Privett of the Baker City Church of the Nazarene said he was putting up seven of the survivors in his home, and that local people had donated food, medicine and clothing.

"They are all pretty shook up," Privett said of the survivors. "These guys are grieving and cried all day.

"There are broken legs and bones, backs, ankles, elbows," he added.

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Associated Press Writers Judith Kohler in Denver, Jeff Barnard in Grants Pass, Ore., Brad Cain in Salem, Ore., and Steven DuBois in Portland contributed to this report.

(This version CORRECTS Corrects spelling of college in graf 2)