15-Passenger Commuter Van Overturns, Kills 3

A crash on Stone Mountain freeway last Tuesday claimed the lives of three Southern Company workers, all of whom were commuting in a carpool van. Six other Southern Company or Georgia Power workers were injured in the crash.

"This is a terrible tragedy for the Southern Company and Georgia Power families," said David Ratcliffe, chairman, president and CEO of Atlanta-based Southern Co. "Our thoughts, prayers go out to the families, friends and co-workers of these employees."

According to DeKalb County police, the crash killed the driver and two passengers. The driver was Robert Harold Clinton Jr., 60. The passengers were Ollie Benny Stephens Jr., 49, and Cindy Fitzgerald, 54. All three lived in Lilburn.

The other driver, James Miles, 55, of Loganville, who was driving a Dodge Stratus, was not hurt in the collision, which shut down the eastbound lanes of Stone Mountain freeway for about three hours last Tuesday afternoon as officials cleared the crash and investigated.

According to officials, the accident was precipitated when the Dodge Stratus clipped the rear of the van while trying to change lanes. The hit caused the 15-person commuter van to lose control and overturn in traffic. Witnesses told police that the Stratus had been changing lanes erratically prior to the accident. As of last week, DeKalb police had filed no charges against Miles, but they say charges may be forthcoming after their investigation is complete.

VPSI, Inc. a Michigan-based company, owned the van. In a typical VPSI carpool, one of the commuters agrees to drive the van to and from work every day.

VPSI released the following statement concerning the crash:

"Like everyone, we are shocked and saddened by what happened today. Our thoughts and prayers go out to all of the families who have been touched by this tragedy. There's a lot that's unknown at this time. As the authorities investigate, we'll do what we can to help them."

The Atlanta Journal Constitution reported on a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study from May which advised commuters that 15-passenger vans are more prone to roll over than other vehicles. Said the report, the risk of rolling over increases dramatically if the number of people in the van goes from less than 5 to more than 10. The report recommended that all passengers wear seatbelts at all time.

Using accident data from the Federal Transit Administration, however, the Association for Commuter Transportation said commuter vanpooling "is the safest mode of public transportation."

"To our knowledge, this accident is only the third vehicular accident involving a commuter vanpool that has resulted in fatalities since the inception of commuter vanpooling in the mid 1970s," said a spokesman for ACT, a Washington-based group that supports different forms of commuter transportation.

The Georgia Regional Transportation Association canceled its 50 state-run commuter vanpools in May, saying it planned to turn the idea over to private vanpool companies, such as VPSI and Enterprise Rent-a-Car. VPSI has more than 300 vanpools in operation in metro Atlanta, the company's Website said.

Do you or anyone you know commute with VPSI or another commuter vanpool? Be sure to show them this blog post and make sure they are wearing seatbelts at all times while commuting. While commuter vanpools may feel like a bus or train, their high risk of rollover should be a cause for concern for any commuter. Buckle up and arrive to and from work in one piece.