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Summit van rollover sends 11 to hospitals

A driver of a 15-passenger van heading down the Siskiyou Summit into the Rogue Valley lost control on a curve Saturday afternoon, sending the van tumbling and an extended family of travelers to the hospital.

The van, which had been rented in Washington, carried four adults and seven children, ranging from — to 6 years old, Oregon State Police Sgt. Brian Powers said. He said they were Pacific Islanders, possibly Samoan; a language barrier slowed police conversations with them.

Police didn't release the names of anyone involved in the crash.

A 20-year-old woman and a 4-year-old girl were critically injured in the rollover, Powers said. Ashland Fire and Rescue took them to Rogue Valley Medical Center, where they both underwent emergency surgery, he said.

Others were taken to Providence Medford Medical Center to be treated for less serious injuries. Most complained of cuts, bruises and back and neck pain, an emergency medical technician said.

Trooper Joe Pollard said many passersby had stopped to help at the scene of the accident, which happened at about 4:05 p.m. He said when emergency crews arrived the critically-injured passengers were outside the van, but he wasn't certain if they had been ejected or pulled out after the big, green van came to rest on its side.

The accident closed one lane of Interstate 5 northbound for several hours. Oregon Department of Transportation crews helped control traffic.

State police said the driver apparently swerved, then overcorrected, which caused the van to roll. Police continue to investigate the accident.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration repeatedly has warned of the dangers of rollovers in fully loaded 15-passenger vans. The latest warning was issued in April 2001.

Recent NHTSA research showed rollovers are three times greater in vans loaded with 10 or more passengers than in those that are lightly loaded.

The greater weight of the passengers and cargo causes the van's center of gravity to shift to the rear, making it more susceptible to tipping in an emergency.

Most accidents occur on rural roads, when drivers are tired or going too fast, or when drivers overcorrect when a wheel drops off the pavement.

The NHTSA recommends that vans be driven by trained, experienced drivers and that all occupants wear seat belts.

Federal law prohibits the sale of 15-passenger vans to transport school-age children to school-related events. No law prohibits use of the vans for college students or other passengers.

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reporter JoNel Aleccia contributed to this story.