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INDIANAPOLIS — The driver of the Indianapolis church bus that overturned, killing three people, told police the brakes failed as it rolled down an interstate exit ramp loaded with church campers.
Driver Dennis Maurer, 68, of Indianapolis, said when the brakes failed he could not prevent the bus from hitting a raised median barrier and overturning Saturday, according to an Indianapolis Metropolitan Police report.
Maurer was negotiating an exit ramp off Interstate 465 when the crash took place.
STORY: 3 killed in church camp bus crash in Indianapolis
The accident remains under investigation. The bus, built in 1986, and its cargo of parents, teenagers and children were less than a mile from Colonial Hills Baptist Church when the tragedy occurred. About 20 people were injured.
The bus careened off the exit ramp, sending terrified passengers on a roller-coaster-like ride that ended with the bus on its side on the southbound lanes of North Keystone Avenue. It was, as one witness described, "mass chaos."
Those killed in the crash included a young pastor, who hours earlier sent a message to church members asking them to pray for the group's safe return.
On Sunday, those killed in Saturday's accident were identified as the church's youth pastor, Chad Phelps, his wife Courtney, and Tonya Weindorf, a long-time church member and mother of five.
A church official said Courtney Phelps was pregnant and due to give birth in about a month. Her unborn child also was killed in the crash.
"They're with God in heaven," church deacon Jeff Leffew said during a news conference outside the church Sunday. "We know that. Without a doubt."
A message posted Sunday on the church's Facebook page thanked people for the "tremendous outpouring of love and strength."
Leffew said Weindorf had gone on the trip to make sure her special needs son had a good time.
"And according to her husband, it was a great week," he said. "And that's who Tonya was. Tonya wrote a special note to the camp director, just thanking them for the way that they served them all week long and how special they were to their son . … She was a special lady. All these folks were special to us as members here, as friends."
The church faces a long road toward healing, Leffew said, but members are confident in God's grace.
"Our church grieves now. We don't grieve necessarily because of the loss," he said. "We grieve the fact that they're not here with us. We miss them."
Leffew's comments came before a memorial service attended by hundreds of church members and friends of the victims.
Leffew said Weindorf's son and the Phelpses' 2-year-old son, Chase, were among the approximately 35 people on the bus when it crashed at 4:15 p.m. They were treated at hospitals and released.
Eight other youths injured in the crash remained hospitalized Sunday, including one reported in critical condition.
Chad Phelps joined the staff of Colonial Hills Baptist Church in 2012.
Chad and Courtney Phelps, as well as Weindorf, were graduates of Bob Jones University in South Carolina. The university issued a statement Sunday through its director of public relations, Randy Page.
"Bob Jones University is deeply saddened by the injury of a number of individuals and the deaths of three of our graduates and an unborn baby in the bus accident in Indianapolis Saturday," Page said.
"While situations like this are difficult to understand, we have absolute faith that God is in control of every circumstance in the lives of those who believe in Him. The Bob Jones University family continues to pray for those injured and their families, the families of those killed and the members of Colonial Hills Baptist Church at this difficult time."
A day before the crash, Chad Phelps hailed the week at camp as an inspiring trip.
"Awesome time of testimonies with some great teens," he said in a message posted Friday on Twitter. "God worked in hearts this week. Can't wait to head back tomorrow!"
The bus was one of two returning from Camp CoBeAc in Prudenville, Mich. Campers had arrived there Monday and left Saturday morning to return to the Colonial Hills church at 8140 Union Chapel Road.
Witnesses told authorities the bus was traveling "at a high rate of speed."
Carol Albright said she was approaching the intersection from the south when the crash occurred.
The light in her lane had turned green, she said, when "out of nowhere the bus appeared" from the left.
"It was going very fast," Albright said. "It hit the median that divides the southbound lanes of Keystone from the ramp to 465. The nose of the bus hit the barricade.
"It kind of pivoted on the nose of the bus and did a little bit of a twist," she said. "How it didn't hit another car, I don't know."