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Truck hits golfers’ van on Toll Road

Claire Heininger | Friday, September 17, 2004

A University-issued van driven by a freshman on the Irish men’s golf team was hit and totaled by a semi truck on Interstate 80 Thursday afternoon, injuring one of the six team members present in the vehicle.

Scott Gustafson, the team’s top-ranked golfer, was the sole passenger injured in the crash. He was transported to St. Joseph Regional Medical Center with lacerations to the elbow caused by broken glass, Indiana State Police said.

Gustafson, a junior, was in stable condition at the hospital Thursday night, nursing supervisor Stella Ford confirmed. Though University athletic officials declined to offer details about Gustafson’s treatment, golfer Eric Deutsch said his teammate underwent surgery.

The van was traveling to a team practice session at Lost Dunes Golf Club in Bridgman, Mich., the site of Friday’s opening round of the Notre Dame Invitational and approximately a 45-minute drive from South Bend.

Police said the crash occurred at the 69.9 westbound mile marker of I-80 at approximately 2:20 p.m. The van’s driver, freshman golfer Gregory Rodgers, reduced his speed in the freeway’s left lane as he prepared to make an illegal U-turn, said State Trooper Tim McCormick.

To avoid plowing into the back of the van as it approached from behind, the semi “had to take evasive action to avoid collision,” McCormick said. He added that several witness accounts confirmed Rodgers was “driving extremely slow” and therefore was at fault. Rodgers was ticketed at the scene for attempting a U-turn on the interstate.

As the semi sideswiped the van, both vehicles veered into the left median, McCormick said.

“It was pretty much a blur to me. I’m still kind of shaken up,” said Deutsch, a junior who was one of the van’s passengers. “We actually got pretty lucky because the semi was empty – if it’s full we’re not walking.”

Head coach John Jasinski, who was waiting for his team in Bridgman at the time of the crash, said he was unable to visit Gustafson in the hospital.

“He’s recovering, he should be okay tomorrow,” Jasinski said.

The van, a 2000 blue Chevy, was towed after suffering nearly $10,000 worth of damage, McCormick said. Damages to the semi were estimated at $1,000.

University spokesman Matt Storin and Associate Athletic Director John Heisler both declined to comment on whether the University will cover the vehicular damage or Gustafson’s hospital fees.

Heisler said it was not unusual for athletes to drive vehicles carrying teammates.

“There are circumstances under which that’s routine,” he said. “Today was a typical example – 16 teams, multiple sites. One coach was at one [site,] one coach was at the other. … There’s no rule against it per se.”

Students in general can also drive their peers after taking a training course, Storin said. He said he did not know if Rodgers had completed such a session.

All golfers but Gustafson will still participate in the tournament, Jasinski said.

“Absolutely, the tournament will continue,” said Chris Masters, assistant director for Sports Information. “We’re really looking forward to it.”

The last major accident involving a Notre Dame sports team occurred in January 1992, when a United Limo bus carrying the women’s swim team overturned on the Indiana Toll Road, killing two swimmers and injuring 32.