7th person dead in Iowa crash involving Utica refugee family

17 Aug

Photo courtesy of KCCI-TV Des Moines, Iowa

A heavily damaged minivan sits Saturday, Aug. 14, 2010, on Interstate 80 near Colfax, Iowa after six people died in a crash. The minivan he was driving was heading west about 11:15 a.m. Saturday on I-80 in Colfax, Iowa, about 25 miles east of Des Moines. The speed limit on Iowa interstates is 70 mph.


Posted Aug 16, 2010 @ 12:43 PM
Last update Aug 16, 2010 @ 10:49 PM

A teenager on Monday became the seventh person to die in the wake of a horrific crash Saturday morning on an Iowa interstate involving a minivan loaded with Burmese refugees headed to a soccer tournament for ethnic Karen youth.

Five of the seven victims were riding in the minivan, and some were members of Tabernacle Baptist Church in downtown Utica.

Because of language and cultural barriers, Iowa State Patrol officials said they were having trouble sorting out names and details.

According to the Rev. Mark Caruana, two of the victims are siblings of the minivan’s driver, Do Taw, 19, of Utica, who fell asleep at the wheel and survived the crash.

They include the teenager, whose age and name were not made public Monday night, and Ba Du La, 20, of Utica, Caruana said.

“Even in the midst of this loss, we will look for the presence of God,” the Tabernacle Baptist Church pastor said. The family has lived in Utica for about four years, he said.

The group in the minivan planned to stop in Omaha, Neb., to pick up another youth who planned to play in a St. Paul, Minn., soccer tournament, he said.

Taw has been released from a hospital after he was treated for minor injuries. He was cited for improper use of lane and failure to maintain control, the Iowa State Patrol said. It is doubtful that he will face other charges, a spokeswoman for the agency said.

The minivan was heading west about 11:15 a.m. Saturday on I-80 in Colfax, Iowa, about 25 miles east of Des Moines. The speed limit on Iowa interstates is 70 mph.

The minivan changed lanes to overtake a semi-tractor-trailer, authorities said. Taw fell asleep, and the minivan drifted, striking the semi. Then, the minivan veered back across the left lane, crossing the median and striking a Toyota Corolla in the eastbound lanes.

“The Toyota continued through the interior of the minivan taking out the captain chair by the left sliding door and rear bench seat, all of which were occupied by passengers in the van,” according to an accident report prepared by the Iowa State Patrol. The entire rear axle and back hatch were torn off the vehicle and came to rest in the median.

Four people were ejected in the crash and were found lying on the highway by the first troopers at the scene.

Besides La, those victims included Hai Seu Moo, 18, of Albany; Toh Toh, 19, of Pittsburgh; and Ker Htoo, whose age and residence were not released.

Another passenger in the van, Ku Lu, 28, of Utica, was treated at a hospital for minor injuries and released.

Also killed were the two people in the Corolla. Driver Kenneth Payetta of Whitby, Ontario, was pronounced dead at the scene. His 6-year-old son, Ashton Payetta, was taken by helicopter to a Des Moines hospital, where he died.

The mother of the Utica-based crash victims was in Iowa on Monday to make arrangements to transport her sons’ remains back to Utica, Caruana said. The minister, meanwhile, said he was searching to answer the question of how a tragedy of such magnitude could strike a single family.

“The reality is sometimes we don’t always have an answer,” he said.

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Posted by on August 17, 2010 in News


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