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Cops: 7 Ind. crash victims were related

BRISTOL, Ind. - Seven people in a minivan full of relatives were killed when their vehicle hit a deer on an Indiana highway and slowed down or stopped just before a semitrailer slammed into them from behind, state police said Friday.

None of the minivan's 10 occupants were wearing seatbelts when the crash happened Thursday night on the Indiana Toll Road about 10 miles east of South Bend, state police Sgt. Trent Smith said. An infant who was in a car seat but not been buckled in was among those killed, he said.

Firefighters and emergency workers at the scene of the crash swarmed around the crumpled remains of the minivan, its side shredded with a torn hunk of metal pinned beneath one of the semi-tractor's tires.

The minivan had Illinois license plates, and police believe at least some of those on board were Ecuadoran immigrants living in the Chicago area, Smith said. The van was heading east, but authorities didn't immediately know the group's destination.

Authorities have not released the names of the victims. Family members were coming about 100 miles from the Chicago area on Friday to help identify them, Smith said.

Two of the minivan's three injured occupants — a man and a woman — were taken by helicopter for treatment and were in critical condition Friday. Another man was in stable condition, Smith said.

Investigators said the least-injured victim told them everyone inside the van was related.

"Not all direct family members, but cousins and other relatives," Smith said.

The semitrailer was going about 65 mph when it hit the van in the highway's eastbound lanes shortly after the van struck a deer about 8 p.m., Smith said. Both vehicles ended up in the center median, blocking traffic in both directions for several hours.

Preliminary tests indicated that the trucker — Jesse Donovan, 24, of Johnston, R.I. — had not been drinking alcohol, Smith said. Donovan was released was a hospital after treatment for minor injuries. Smith said Donovan didn't face any charges at this time.

Donovan was an employee of Roehl Transport Inc. of Marshfield, Wis., which owns the truck, said Vice President of Workforce Development and Administration Greg Koepel.

"Our hearts go out to those in the accident and their families," said Koepel, who said the company would have no further comment.

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