Families of three teens killed in a 15-passenger "church van" are offering $1,000 to owners of similar vehicles to retrofit them by adding two rear tires. The nonprofit "Van Angels" program is funded by the undisclosed settlement received in a class-action lawsuit against Ford and Michelin. Requests from churches and schools may be made at www.vanangels.org.
Project director Mark Smith of Denver is the father of one of the teens killed while on a mission trip to Mexico in 2002. The Ford Econoline van they were riding in rolled over after a rear tire separated. "We came up with the idea of Van Angels," he said of the families involved in the settlement, "to create educational awareness about issues relating to 15-passenger vans. [They] were designed as cargo vans and never intended for passengers. Most of the weight is on the left rear tire, which causes it to separate."
The federal government prohibits public elementary and secondary schools from transporting students in 15-passenger vans. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says 763 people were killed in van rollovers between 1982 and 2001. In May it issued a third warning of rollover risks to users of these vans.
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