A 15-passenger van filled with meatpacking employees slid off an icy southwestern Minnesota interstate early Thursday, rolled in the median and ejected many of the passengers, leaving four seriously hurt, authorities said.
The crash occurred about 1:40 a.m. along westbound Interstate 90 on the northwest edge of Worthington, according to the Minnesota State Patrol.
All 15 in the South Dakota-registered van were hurt, with three taken by air ambulance to a Sioux Falls hospital with life-threatening injuries, said patrol Sgt. Jacalyn Sticha.
A spokesman for Colorado-based JBS meatpacking in Worthington told the Sioux Falls Argus Leader that all 15 work for the company and commute the 60 or so miles in a personal vehicle to and from Sioux Falls.
The driver, Altayeb Arbab-Azzein, 29, of Sioux Falls, was wearing a seat belt and had noncritical injuries, the patrol said.
All of the occupants were adults and from Sioux Falls, ranging in age from 22 to 54, according to the patrol. Five were sent to Sioux Falls hospitals and one was hospitalized at Sanford Worthington Medical Center, said hospital CEO Mike Hammer. Four were in serious condition, the patrol said in a late-morning update.
“I did not get the sense that there was anybody who won’t make it,” Hammer said.
Being treated for serious injuries in Sioux Falls were Mussa Alaaldeen, 32; Klaw Reh, 22; Talla Agra, 52, and Bhandari Mekh, 28.
The van is a Chevrolet Express G3500, which has enough seats for the number of people who were in the vehicle when it crashed.
Authorities have yet to say where the van began its travels or where it was heading.
This type of van is particularly popular with athletic groups and places of worship, but there have been government concerns about their safety for years. In April, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued a warning about the rollover risks associated with 15-passenger vans, particularly if they are overloaded or if an inexperienced person is behind the wheel.
“NHTSA research shows there is a greater risk of rollover because many drivers lack experience driving the larger vehicles,” the agency said. “Because 15-passenger vans handle quite differently than smaller passenger vehicles due to their increased length and width, NHTSA recommends only experienced drivers familiar with their handling should operate them.”