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Driver charged in firefighter crash

PARACHUTE, Colorado (CNN) -- The driver of a van carrying firefighters from Oregon to fight wildfires in Colorado was charged Saturday with careless driving in connection with the crash that killed four of her passengers, police said.

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The driver, identified as 21-year-old Megan Helm of La Grande, Oregon, faces four counts of careless driving causing death and two counts of careless driving causing serious bodily injury, a Colorado State Patrol news release stated.

Eleven firefighters were headed to the raging 137,000-acre Hayman blaze southwest of Denver Friday, when the van they were riding in crashed on an Interstate highway in western Colorado.

State police said the van was one of a convoy of eight vehicles carrying firefighters who specialize in battling wildfires.

State police identified three of the fatalities as: Retha Shirley, 19, of Baker, Oregon; Jake Martindale, age unknown, of Boise, Idaho; and Daniel Rama, 28, of Baker, Oregon. The name of the fourth fatality will be released pending family notification. The others in the van were injured and taken to hospitals in Rifle, Glenwood Springs and Grand Junction, Colorado.

Two people were in critical condition, police said. The driver suffered moderate injuries.

The accident happened 3 miles east of Parachute, Colorado, on Interstate 70 about 5:15 p.m. MDT (7:15 p.m. EDT).

State Trooper Cpl. Ron Madsen said the accident occurred when there was a lapse in the driver's concentration.

According to a news release from state police, "The van was traveling east when the driver lost control and went off the left side of the road momentarily into the median.

"The van then came back across the two eastbound lanes and rolled three times on the roadway and one time off the right side of the road. Four of the occupants were ejected."

Some of the passengers were wearing seat belts but others were not strapped in, Madsen said.

The weather conditions at the time of the accident were clear and dry. The 15-passenger van stopped in Parachute just before the accident took place.




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