Police: Investigation into cause of deadly bus crash could take weeks

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.—Investigators with Indiana State Police said it could be weeks before the cause of a deadly northeast bus accident is determined.

Officials said reconstruction specialists from The Fatal Alcohol Crash Team (FACT), along with experts from the Motor Carrier Division of ISP, inspected parts of the bus Monday.  Their findings will then be submitted to the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office for further review.

Three people were killed and dozens were injured after a Colonial Hills Baptist Church bus overturned on its side at 96th Street and Keystone Avenue around 4 p.m. Saturday. A majority of the passengers aboard the bus were teenagers returning from a church retreat in Michigan.

Youth Pastor Chad Phelps, his wife Courtney and their unborn child were killed in the accident. Church member, Tonya Weindorf, also lost her life in the crash. Donations are being accepted on a YouCaring.com page dedicated to the Phelps family, who leave behind a 2-year-old son.

Updates from area hospital officials Monday revealed all three patients still hospitalized are in good condition.
Witnesses told police the bus was moving at high speed as it exited from the interstate onto southbound Keystone Avenue. The bus hit a concrete median, sending it airborne before flipping it over.

The 68-year-old driver told officers at the scene the brakes had failed. If that is the case, investigators should know soon.

“In the majority of these cases, you can tell fairly early on whether or not there was a brake issue or not,” said Sgt. Tyler Utterback.

Utterback, who works with the State Police Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Division, which is already conducting inspections on the bus. Although Utterback couldn’t comment specifically on this case, he said inspections on the bus were already underway.

“And basically what you’re doing is just to see if there are any defects or violations of the federal motor carrier safety regulations,” Utterback said.

Since the 27-year-old bus is owned by the church, it didn’t undergo the same regular state inspections that school busses undergo. However, it was required to meet federal transportation guidelines.

Utterback and his team are looking for physical evidence, separate from statements from the driver and witnesses. He also said mechanical failure is rarely the sole cause of a crash, but it’s too early to draw any conclusions.

“You’re being relied upon to come up with the answers, come up with the truth,” Utterback said. “It’s the right thing to do for the victims.”

The results from the State Police inspection will be one part of the investigation, which is being overseen by the FACT team, which includes members from Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department and other agencies.

Ultimately, the IMPD-lead investigation will be turned over to the Marion County Prosecutor for review, and any possible charges in the case. Utterback and an IMPD spokesman said it was too early to say whether charges are expected in the case.

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