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Police: Tailgating driver caused church van to crash

(GARY, Ind.) A van carrying a dozen teenagers returning from a basketball tournament veered off the road and rolled down an embankment in northwest Indiana on Thursday night after the driver sped up to avoid a tailgater.

Twelve people were taken to area hospitals, including one who was airlifted to Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn after being ejected from the vehicle, but none was believed to have life-threatening injuries, according to the Lake County (Ind.) Sheriff’s office.

The accident occurred at 8:43 p.m. on Cline Avenue near the Gary Avenue exit ramp to the Indiana Toll Road.

The injured -- with the exception of the driver of the 2002 Ford van -- are students at City Baptist Schools in Hammond, according to principal John Francis. The students are all between 15 and 17 years old, according to a release from the sheriff’s office.

“From what we understand, there was a car that was tail-gating the van, flashing its high-beams, trying to get the van to go fast,” Francis said. “The van sped up to get this car off its tail and was coming up to the exit and took the exit too fast.”

Joe McCollam, former assistant principal at City Baptist Schools, said the youths were returning from a basketball tournament at Hyles-Anderson College near Schererville, Ind.

Francis said one of the boys was taken to Comer Children’s Hospital in Chicago for observation.

A 17-year-old boy was ejected from the van and pinned underneath, according to the sheriff’s office. That boy was airlifted to Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood with a broken rib and a gash on his forehead.

The nine others in the van were treated and released, Francis said. The driver, 26-year-old Luis Uruchima of Hammond, was taken to Saint Catherine’s Hospital in East Chicago, Ind., and treated for multiple injuries, according to the sheriff’s office.

“When you look at the pictures (of the crash),” it could have been much worse,” Francis said. “We’re very thankful.”

The tailgating driver did not stop after the crash, Francis said. “He did not even stop when the van rolled down the hill.”

The sheriff’s office said Friday morning that alcohol was not a factor in the crash, which remains under investigation.

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