Driver in Ill. van wreck had license supsensions

ST. LOUIS (AP) — A New Jersey ex-convict behind the wheel of a van that overturned on an Illinois freeway, killing five passengers returning from a California ministry gathering, had his driving privileges suspended last year for administrative reasons, motor vehicle records show.

Illinois State Police have refused to publicly identify the driver ticketed for improper lane usage and driving with a suspended license in connection with Monday’s Interstate 70 wreck, citing an ongoing investigation a spokeswoman said could take weeks. However, The Associated Press obtained that citation, which was issued to 45-year-old Malcolm Purnell of Paterson, N.J. Public records suggest Purnell now lives in Camden, N.J.

The state’s attorney in Illinois’ Fayette County, Joshua Morrison, said no criminal charges have been filed in the wreck that killed five Baltimore men near Vandalia, Ill., about 70 miles east of St. Louis.

The 11 occupants of the 15-passenger van were members of an evangelical Christian church returning from a weeklong international conference in Ontario, Calif., near Los Angeles, when the vehicle inexplicably careened off of the interstate and flipped several times, ejecting nine of the men.

Purnell, among the six passengers who survived, was released Wednesday from the hospital and has not responded to repeated AP requests for an interview. Messages left with his relatives also were not returned Thursday.

Purnell’s driver’s license was suspended last year by a court after he failed to resolve insurance issues and did not make three required payments to get his driving privileges restored, New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission records show. Purnell tried to fix the problem by frequently calling, writing and faxing the commission, according to the records.

Purnell’s license also was suspended briefly in 2002 after falling behind on child support, though he has had no actual driving-related violations over the past decade or so, the driving records show.

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