INDIANAPOLIS An Indianapolis congregation on Sunday mourned the deaths of their youth pastor, his pregnant wife and another member who were killed when a church bus overturned with just a mile to go in a return trip from a Michigan summer camp.
Saturday's accident devastated members of Colonial Hills Baptist Church, who had been anticipating a joyful homecoming with the 37 people who were aboard the bus. Youth pastor Chad Phelps, his pregnant piano-teacher wife, Courtney Phelps, and chaperone Tonya Weindorf were killed, said Deacon Jeff Leffew.
Dozens of people were injured in the crash, which happened near Interstate 465. On Sunday, six teenagers remained hospitalized, including one who was in critical condition.
Dennis Maurer, a 68-year-old congregation member who was driving the church-owned bus, told authorities that its brakes failed before it struck a raised concrete median and flipped on its side, Indianapolis police said.
The Phelpses, who were in their mid-20s, were expecting their second child, Leffew said. Chad Phelps was the son of the church's senior pastor and became its youth pastor late last year, he said.
“He was one of those guys, he was always looking out helping for others, and he was just one of those guys, he was willing to give up himself to help us,” explains Camp CoBeAc Leadership Camper, Dakota Talosa of South Bend.
"We're going to have a long road, but God is good," Leffew said at a Sunday news conference.
The couple's nearly 2-year-old child, Chase, was injured in the crash. He was treated and released from a hospital Saturday, IU Health spokeswoman Sally Winter said.
The bus was coming home from a church camp in Northern Michigan known as Camp CoBeAc.
“When you get in a cabin with everybody and it’s almost like you become a family. It’s so amazing because people you don't even know, you get to spend an entire week with them and by the end of the week you best friends, you are like brothers, you are like sisters,” says Talosa.
The bus had nearly completed its 365-mile journey from Camp CoBeAc, near Prudenville, Mich., when it overturned about a mile from the church, where parents were waiting to pick up their children who had just spent a week praying, zip-lining and playing basketball.
Weindorf, the 51-year-old chaperone who was killed, had five children, Leffew said.
Troy Riggs, Indianapolis' public safety director, called the crash a "great tragedy."
"They were not that far from home. ... That only adds to the tragedy," Riggs said Saturday.
Three of the six hospitalized teens, including the one in critical condition, were at IU Health Methodist Hospital, Winter said Sunday. The other three were at the Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health. Many of the patients had head, arm and leg injuries, fire officials said.
Leffew thanked rescue workers and good Samaritans who tried to help after the crash, as well as local churches and businesses that have offered their support.
"We are so grateful for that outpouring of love and care," he said Sunday.
“Everything happens for a reason. We may not understand why, but we know that everything comes out for the better. And although this may be a time of sorrow, we do know that the people who have died have gone to meet God,” explains Talosa.