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Published: Tuesday, 5/23/2006

Van threw 8 children as it rolled when hit

BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

COLUMBUS GROVE, Ohio - Eight of the 10 young people riding in a church van that was struck by a car Sunday were thrown from the vehicle when it overturned, investigators said yesterday.

Jasmin Wickard, 14, of Leipsic was killed in the crash, which occurred about 4:45 p.m. on State Rt. 65, a mile north of Columbus Grove. Jasmin's half-sister, Shelby Davis, 12, of Leipsic remained in critical condition at Toledo Hospital, while Kimberly Herren, 15, of Defiance was in critical condition at St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center, Toledo.

Two other passengers in the van - Anisha Minjarez, 14, of Leipsic and Janelle Benroth, 22, of Columbus Grove - were in fair condition yesterday at Lima Memorial Hospital.

Trooper Mark Nelson of the Ohio Highway Patrol's Lima post said the van from Harvest Assembly of God Church in West Leipsic overturned when a car driven by Aloysius Warnecke, 91, of Columbus Grove failed to stop for a stop sign at Putnam County Road O and struck the van's rear left side.

"He stated that he had stopped, but I have witnesses' statements saying he did not stop," the trooper said. "He may have slowed down, but it appears to me he rolled through it."

No citations have been issued in the case, and Trooper Nelson said the case would be turned over to the Putnam County prosecutor once the investigation is completed. The intersection is "wide open," he said, adding that there did not appear to be any other factors, such as alcohol or excessive speed, that played into the accident.

"He just didn't see it," Trooper Nelson said.

Texas lawyer Jeff Wigington said the crash was one of two involving 15-passenger vans that occurred Sunday. He has litigated more than a dozen cases involving the extra-large vans, arguing that they are unstable and roll over when they shouldn't, based on the design of the vehicle.

"People are still largely unaware of the danger associated with these vans," Mr. Wigington said. "The word doesn't seem to be getting out, but every year about this time, my phone starts ringing because people start taking longer trips in their 15-passenger vans and they start rolling over."

More than 700 fatal rollover accidents have occurred in the last 20 years involving such vans, the design of which has remained unchanged since the 1970s, Mr. Wigington said.

In 2003, a 10-year-old girl was killed when a 15-passenger van from Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church in Lima went out of control and overturned on I-75 on its way to Findlay.

Representatives of Harvest Assembly of God Church in West Leipsic couldn't be reached for comment.

Leipsic Local Schools Superintendent Alice Dewar said four of the children involved in the crash attended Leipsic Elementary, including Jasmin Wickard, who was an eighth-grader. Her half-sister, Shelby Davis, is a fifth grader, and Jessica Wickard, 13, who was treated at Lima Memorial, is a seventh grader. Anisha Minjarez is in eighth grade.

"We had grief counselors here this morning," Ms. Dewar said. "Our students obviously were very upset, but they have dealt with it as best they could."

She said news of the accident reached school officials shortly after the high school graduation ceremony concluded Sunday.

"It had all gone off without a hitch," Ms. Dewar said. "Everyone was relieved that was all over. Our responsibility, as far as the district was concerned, was done for the day, and then we had this happen."

The driver of the van, John Nieto, 23, of Leipsic was treated at St. Rita's Ambulatory Care Center in Glandorf, where Mr. Warnecke and his passenger, Anna Marie Warnecke, 86, also were treated.

Three other passengers in the van were treated at area hospitals: Eli Gable, 13, of Ottawa was treated at Lima Memorial; Sarah Conn, 16, of Ottawa was treated at St. Rita's Ambulatory Care Center, and Taylor Roblas, 14, of Ottawa, was discharged yesterday from St. Vincent.

Contact Jennifer Feehan

at jfeehan@theblade.com

or 419-353-5972.



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