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Lawsuit Filed Over Van Rollover Deaths

Aug 20, 2004 | Religion News Service

The estates of five young people killed in a single-vehicle church van rollover accident last year have sued Ford Motor Co. and Enterprise Rent-A-Car, claiming Ford was negligent in manufacturing its Econoline E-350 15-passenger van, and Enterprise knew the vans were dangerous.

Calling the 2002 Econoline E-350 "a death trap waiting to happen," the plaintiff's attorney said inexperienced drivers and full loads increase chances such vans will roll over.

Ford has made changes to its 2006 model vans, designed to provide more stability when sensors detect unusual side-to-side movement, but the company said in a statement, "We remain confident that this is a very safe vehicle."

In 2002, the National Transportation Safety Board said the center of gravity of 15-passenger vehicles rises when the van carries more than 10 passengers, and rollovers are more likely.

Because of this finding, the board recommended in July 2003 that Ford strengthen the roofs of its 15-passenger vans and provide more safety belts, and it called for training Econoline drivers to better maneuver in emergency situations.

The current suit, filed in Almeda Superior Court in California, stems from an accident in Yermo, Calif., nearly halfway between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. A van carrying 14 young adults to a religious retreat rolled over on Interstate 15, killing five passengers.

The group had gathered at St. Antonius Coptic Church in northern California the previous day and set out on the 400-mile trek south, crashing onto the median only 20 minutes away from their destination.

The van's driver, Peter Demian, had been awake 19 straight hours at the time of the accident, according to the California Highway Patrol. No charges were filed against Demian, and he has not been sued.

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