ELKHART COUNTY – Seven people were killed, including an infant, and four others were injured in a crash on the Indiana Toll Road Thursday night. Now, hospital officials are saying one of those injured is doing a little better.
Maria Antonia Yupa, 36, lost her son and husband in that crash. On Friday she was listed in serious condition. On Saturday the nursing supervisor at South Bend Memorial Hospital said she has been upgraded to fair condition.
State police say the group, composed of three related families, was traveling from Chicago to New Jersey to attend a funeral.
The Chicago Tribune, who talked to the brother of one of the victims, is reporting one of the families hoped to introduce the newborn to his grandparents.
"The state police have learned from one passenger from the van that several of the occupants were originally from Ecuador and that they are all related, but from different families," according to a news release issued Friday morning. "It is believed that they have been living in the Chicago area for several years."
Police say the crash happened just before 8 p.m. in the eastbound lanes near mile marker 103, between Bristol and Middlebury, in Elkhart County.
State Police spokesman Sgt. Trent Smith told WSBT early Friday morning the child was in an infant seat, but the seat was not restrained by a seat belt. No one else in the van was wearing seat belts either, Smith said.
Witnesses told Indiana State Police the driver of the Toyota Sienna minivan, 30-year-old Manuel Chimborazo, struck a deer and came to a stop or slowed down in the driving lane when the minivan was struck from behind by a Freightliner semi. Police said the semi was traveling between 60 and 65 mph when it struck the van from behind.
Police are still determining how fast the van was going and its exact location before being hit by the semi. It is still unknown why the truck driver was not able to avoid hitting the van.
Three families were traveling in the van:
In the first family was 28-year-old Cayetano Quizhpe, who is at Elkhart General Hospital in an unknown condition, but he is stable. His wife, 21-year-old Maria J. Yupa, was killed along with his 8-year-old son Edwin Quizhpe and 6-week-old son Franklin Quizhpe.
In the second family is 52-year-old Pedro Chimborazo, who was killed. His wife is 36-year-old Maria Antonia Yupa, the one who has been upgraded to fair condition. Their 15-year-old son, Pedro, was also killed.
In the third family was the driver, 30-year-old Manuel Chimborazo, who is still at South Bend Memorial in critical condition. The Chicago Tribune says he is in a coma. His wife, 26-year-old Maria Chimborazo Pinguil, was killed along with their daughter, 8-year-old Jessica.
Jesse F. Donovan, 24, who was the driver of the semi, went to Elkhart General where he was treated and later released, Smith said. The alchohol and drug test came back negative.
The semi was owned by Roehl Transport Inc. from Marshfield, Wisconsin, though Donovan was from Rhode Island.
Fact Finder: Previous deadly crashes
This stretch of the Toll Road has been the scene of several big accidents over the last few years.
- In April of 2007, eight people were killed and two injured in a crash at mile marker 102.
- A few miles to the west in August of 2006, there were five people killed in a five-car crash at mile marker 99.
- In May of 2006, a mother and her two children died in a crash at mile marker 104.
- In August of 2005 a semi and five cars crashed, killing four people just west of the 102 mile marker.
When asked Friday why this section of the highway has seen so many fatalities, Amber Kettring, public relations manager for the Indiana Toll Road, said it is likely just a coincidence.
"It’s just like any other part of the road," she said. "We have 157 miles, and you can’t really single out one section. Most of the accidents since 2005 can be attributed to driver inattention."
Indiana State Police spokesman, Sgt. Trent Smith, agreed that there is nothing unusual that would lead to more accidents there, adding it’s a straight stretch of road.
Perhaps, one reason the crashes have yielded so much attention is because of the number of victims. Since 2005, separate accidents in that stretch have caused death totals of three, four, five, seven and eight.
The seven fatalities Thursday more than doubled the three deaths that have occurred on the entire length of the Toll Road this year prior to the accident. It also surpassed the four fatalities last year alone. In 2009, there were eight deaths on the Toll Road.
Additional information provided by the South Bend Tribune.
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