All classes are cancelled today at the Fort Wayne and Upland, IN, campuses of Taylor University after a horrific van crash on I69 near Marion, IN, took the lives of five Taylor students and employees Wednesday evening. A prayer vigil on the Taylor campus was scheduled for 9 a.m. today with a memorial service at 10 a.m. in Rediger Chapel on the Upland campus.
Four of the victims were students, ages 18 to 22, and the fifth was an employee they worked with in the university’s dining services. Four others who had been in the van were hospitalized, including a 22-year-old student listed in critical condition Thursday morning.
The van was about 10 miles north of Taylor’s Upland campus Wednesday night when it was hit by a tractor-trailer that crashed through a median on Interstate 69.
As word of the deaths spread across the campus of 1,900 students, friends and classmates gathered in the campus chapel to pray.
Investigators were trying to determine why the semi crashed through the median about 8 p.m., peeling open the side of the van. The truck driver, identified by police as Robert F. Spencer, 27, of Canton, Mich., was hospitalized in fair condition Thursday.
“It was one of the most horrific crashes I’ve ever seen,” said Indiana State Police Sgt. Rod Russell.
The students and staff had been in Fort Wayne preparing for a scholarship banquet that was to be part of new school President Eugene Habecker’s inauguration festivities planned for the weekend.
Another Taylor van was following the one involved in the crash, but it had pulled off the highway to refuel and came up on the accident scene soon after it happened, Garringer said.
Police identified the victims as Elizabeth A. Smith, 22, of Mount Zion, Ill.; Bradley J. Larson, 22, of Elm Grove, Wis.; Whitney E. Cerak, 18, of Gaylord, Mich.; Laurel E. Erb, 20, of St. Charles, Ill.; and Taylor University employee Monica Felver, 53, of Hartford City. Larson and Smith were seniors at the college.
The university employee driving the van, Vickie L. Rhodes, 54, of Fairmount; employees Connie Magers, 50, of Gas City, and Michele M. Miller, 43, of Marion; and student Laura J. Vanryn, 22, of Caledonia, Mich., were hospitalized. Vanryn was in critical condition after being airlifted to Parkview Hospital in Fort Wayne.
Indiana State Police News Release with further details.