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Jun 24, 2011 5:49 AM by Lauren Wilson & AP

Van packed with church members crashes, killing 5

OAK GROVE, La. (AP) - A van full of church members heading home from a Bible class veered off a northeast Louisiana highway and hit a culvert, killing five people, including two children and injuring several others, authorities said Thursday.
The van crashed Wednesday night on Louisiana Highway 587 in West Carroll Parish, said Louisiana State Police Trooper Mark Dennis. The van's driver, Joey W. McKan, 30, died Thursday afternoon from his injuries, making him the fifth victim.
Also killed were Portia Thornton, 53, two of her daughters, Kaitlyn Thornton, 19, and Brittany Thornton, 12; along with 4-year-old Emma Adams.
The van belonged to the New Zion Baptist Church, about eight miles outside Oak Grove, said Kenneth Green, chief deputy of the West Carroll Parish Sheriff's Department.
"It's just a little country church," Green said. "They were taking people home from Bible school at the church."
Kelly Coleman, vice president of the Guarantee Bank and Trust in Oak Grove, was at his church about 200 yards from the crash site and quickly drove to the scene after getting a phone call from a friend.
"When I saw how bad it was I drove back to church and told them to start praying," Coleman said. "Then I got my wife, who has nursing experience, and went back."
The 15-passenger van vaulted the ditch and hit the culvert, and the rear end flipped over the front before it came to rest on its wheels, Coleman said.
Coleman, who said he knew Portia Thornton personally, said another of her daughters and a son, 20-year-old Jake Thornton, were also in the van. State police did not release the names of two 16-year-olds and a boy whose age had not been determined, saying the department would not identify juvenile survivors.
Aaron Coats, 21, and a 6-year-old were among the injured passengers who were taken to hospitals from Monroe to Jackson, Miss.
The accident remains under investigation. The cause was unclear, and there was no indication the van was speeding, Dennis said. Routine toxicology tests were pending, though drugs and alcohol also were not suspected.
Sheriff Jerry Philley said the van wrecked on a stretch of road that was straight and flat.
Calls to the church went unanswered Thursday. Pastor Greg Dunn did not immediately return a call.
Coleman said the wreck had stunned the small community but had also pulled residents together.
"I'm pleased to tell you that we live in the Bible belt," he said. "I believe we have more churches per square mile than any other parish, and they are already offering assistance and planning services."

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