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Seven killed when church van overturns

Updated:
ATASCADERO, Calif. (AP) -- A church-rented van carrying 14 people
overturned on a central California highway and rolled down an
embankment in a late-night accident, authorities said. Seven people
were killed.

A Los Angeles-based church had rented the van, which was en
route to San Francisco when it crashed on Highway 101 about 11 p.m.
Thursday, California Highway Patrol spokesman Scott Lee said.

The identity of the church was not released.

Investigators said they were puzzled by the accident, which
occurred on a relatively straight section of the highway. The
driver was among the dead.

The van apparently slid broadside across the northbound side of
the highway before overturning and tumbling across the southbound
lanes. No other vehicles were involved.

"It's kind of bizarre. It doesn't make any sense," CHP Sgt.
Christopher Day said. "The road is straight. There is no unusual
slope or grade. It's like the driver lost control."

None of the passengers, who ranged in age from 5 to 60, was
wearing a seat belt, police said. Lee said five of the seven who
died had been thrown from the van.

A man and a woman were in critical condition, a second man was
in stable condition and three adults were treated for minor
injuries and released at different hospitals. Aretha Fike, 5, was
in serious condition at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, nursing
supervisor Carol Dolyak said.

The crash was near Atascadero, about 210 miles north of Los
Angeles.

The crumpled vehicle came to rest on its passenger side in a
10-foot-deep roadside ditch. Rescue workers righted the vehicle by
propping it with boards to gain access to those trapped in the
wreckage.

Purses, backpacks and plastic utensils were strewn on the
highway, surrounding a trail of debris left by the van as it
tumbled across the center divider and two lanes.

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