ST. LOUIS (AP) — A van carrying 11 men returning from a California religious gathering careened off of a southern Illinois freeway and overturned several times Monday, killing five of them and sending six others to hospitals, authorities said.
Bruce Bowen called Monday's crash scene on Interstate 70 west of Vandalia among the worst he's seen in his 13 years as coroner of Illinois' Fayette County. Nine of the men were thrown from the 15-passenger van as it tumbled over and over. Those who sustained fatal injuries died at the scene.
"It was total disaster," he told The Associated Press. "There were just bodies everywhere."
Bowen said the names of the men who died couldn't be released as of late Monday afternoon, given that he and other authorities were just starting to notify relatives.
The van's driver, who was among the six survivors, was conscious and still behind the wheel when emergency crews arrived, though it was unclear whether he was able to offer investigators any insight into why the 2002 Dodge vehicle with Maryland license plates went out of control shortly before 10 a.m.
"There weren't any other vehicles involved," Fayette County sheriff's deputy Shawn Carter said. "I'm not sure what caused this."
Carter said it appears the van was headed eastbound from what he called a religious event in California when it swerved onto I-70's grassy median. It then veered back across both lanes of the freeway before flipping several times.
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