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Published: Sunday, 7/29/2001

Van rollover kills 5 from Ohio family

ALMA, Mich. - Five people were killed and two remained in hospitals when their van rolled over several times Friday near this central Michigan town, authorities said.

The 17-year-old driver of the van lost control and over-corrected, going from the left lane to the right lane and off the roadway, Michigan state police said.

Killed were:

wStephanie Carr, 17, of Willshire, Ohio, who was driving the van.

wRobert Carr, known as BJ, 13, of Willshire, the driver's brother.

wFerne Chilcote, 85, of Ohio City, Ohio, the teens' grandmother.

wBrenda Phillips, 49, of Ottoville, Ohio, Mrs. Chilcote's daughter.

wElouise Custer, 78, of Van Wert, Mrs. Chilcote's sister-in-law.

All but the boy were pronounced dead on Friday. He died yesterday in Spectrum Health-Butterworth campus in Grand Rapids, Mich., authorities said.

Stephanie and Robert's mother, Janet Carr, 45, of Willshire was treated at Gratiot Community Hospital in Alma, while her twin sister, Jean Cozad, 45, of Van Wert, was transferred to St. Mary's Hospital in Saginaw, Mich., where she was listed in critical condition last night.

Mrs. Chilcote was the mother of Mrs. Carr and Ms. Cozad.

The group was en route to the Gladwin, Mich., area to visit relatives at a lake when the accident occurred at 12:45 p.m. on northbound U.S. 27, about 50 miles north of Lansing, troopers at the Michigan State Police post in Ithaca said.

“Something like this affects everybody,” said Dean King, who was the mayor of tiny Willshire (population: 463) for 24 years. “It affects young kids tremendously. The [Carr] kids were in youth activities, and they were good kids. It's bad.''

Five of the people were thrown from the van as it rolled over five times. The vehicle came to rest on its wheels, police reported.

Northbound traffic was rerouted to the southbound lanes for nearly two hours as troopers worked to reconstruct the accident.

News of the deaths stunned extended family, friends, and schoolmates of the victims.

Richard Cote, who has lived next door to the Carrs' for seven years, said: “It was kind of a shock. They seemed like a pretty good bunch.”

His son, Adam Cote, 14, grew close to BJ. “I was really upset,” Adam said. “He was really funny at times. We used to walk around town all the time.”

He recalled his friend's fondness for collecting baseball cards and for football.

BJ spent his days driving an all-terrain vehicle on trails along the St. Mary's River and liked to go hunting with his father. He'd been recovering the last 11/2 years from a gun accident and had undergone reconstructive facial surgery, the Cotes said.

BJ would have entered eighth grade at Parkway Middle School, and Stephanie would have begun her senior year at Parkway High School this fall.

Both took time for extracurricular activities, their cousin Sheri Wannamacher said.

Stephanie played in the marching band and was on the cheerleading squad. Robert was a team manager of the middle school football team.

Their father, Robert Carr, operates a trucking company in Willshire.

The Parkway Local School District has a support system for dealing with such tragedies, but school officials will not decide until tomorrow whether to put it into effect.

“We want to wait for the family to have a chance to get back into the area, and then make a decision on what to do from there,” William Steinbrunner, high school principal, said. “I know [Stephanie] will be missed, and her brother too. Our concern right now is for the families.”

Earl Brodbeck, a neighbor, recalled “Stephie” as a sister who displayed great concern for her brother when he was an infant. Mr. Brodbeck, who dresses as Santa during the Christmas season, remembered visiting the Carr residence during the boy's first holiday season, when the boy was a few weeks old.

“I told her to come sit on my lap, but she said, `No, I want you to see my little brother first.' She made sure her 3-week-old brother saw Santa first,” Mr. Brodbeck said.

The family matriarch, Mrs. Chilcote, “was the sweetest lady you ever wanted to meet,” Tanda Ricker, sister of Mrs. Phillips' husband, Jay, said. Mrs. Chilcote was a native of Scott, Ohio, and was involved in activities at Ohio City United Methodist Church, where she was a member of the United Methodist Women, and at the Van Wert YWCA.

“She was a very strong Christian woman,” Mrs. Ricker said.

Mrs. Phillips was office manager for P&L Fertilizer, Middle Point, Ohio, and was a member of First Assembly of God, Delphos, and its women's ministries. She and her husband, married 24 years, had no children.

“Her whole life was Jay,” Mrs. Ricker said. “She loved him so much.”

Mrs. Custer was the sister of Mrs. Chilcote's late husband, Benjamin. She was a native of Van Wert and was a graduate of Ohio City-Liberty High School. She had been a sales clerk at Barnhart's Furniture Outlet, Van Wert. She was a member of the Apostolic Church, Van Wert.

Arrangements for the Carr children are pending at the Haggard & Sefton Mortuary, Decatur, Ind.

The bodies of Mrs. Chilcote and Mrs. Phillips will be in the Cowan & Son Mortuary, Van Wert, after 2 p.m. tomorrow. Services for mother and daughter will be at 11 a.m. Tuesday in the mortuary.

The body of Mrs. Custer will be in the Cowan & Son Mortuary, Van Wert, after 6 p.m. Tuesday. Services will be at 11 a.m Wednesday in the Apostolic Church, Van Wert.

This article was written by Blade staff writer Mark Zaborney, with reports from Blade staff writers Tom Henry, Brian Crocker, and Carl Ryan.



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