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Allen Slabaugh escapes van crash

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A man who survived a 2007 bus crash that killed five of his Ohio college baseball teammates and two other people says he had flashbacks this week when he went through another serious accident with another team -- fellow cyclists he'll lead on a cross-country ride for charity.

"The van tilted a little bit, and went and rolled," Allen Slabaugh said Friday, as he recounted Tuesday's wreck on Interstate 84 in Burley, in southern Idaho. "For me personally, it had a very similar feel to the bus accident in 2007."

Slabaugh, 24, was on a bus carrying members of the Bluffton University baseball team to Florida when it plunged off an Atlanta highway overpass. The bus driver and his wife were killed, along with the five teammates.

Slabaugh, an outfielder, was sleeping at the time, but recalls hearing screams and feeling the sensation of going through the air. He was thrown from the bus and woke to find himself on top of the bridge with scratches and scrapes, requiring four stitches on his knee.

Slabaugh said he got scraped up again Tuesday, not as seriously, but the feeling of deja vu rattled him.

"That sort of brought flashbacks," he said Friday. "It was definitely very scary."

He was in a 15-passenger van that blew out a tire and flipped over on its roof. The passengers included cyclists headed to Seattle for Sunday's start of the fourth annual Fuller Center Bike Adventure, a 3,600-mile ride to Washington, D.C., to raise money for the Fuller Center for Housing.

Slabaugh was not hospitalized, but four of the eight people on board suffered minor injuries. They included a 69-year-old cyclist and a newlywed couple who met on the 2009 ride, according to the Fuller Center, an Americus, Ga.-based Christian organization that builds and renovates housing for the poor.

Slabaugh was reached on a cell phone in Seattle, where he and most of the others from the van drove in a rental car. They are still participating in the charity ride.

Slabaugh said he participated in last year's ride for two weeks, or 600 miles, and was asked by the founder to lead this year's event.

As a student at Bluffton in northwest Ohio, he majored in sports management and intended to seek a career on the business side of baseball, interning with the minor league Rochester Red Wings after he graduated in 2009. But he said that because of the Bluffton crash, he refocused and wound up entering the Mennonite Volunteer Service program and working with groups such as the Fuller Center.

"When you go through something like that, it definitely makes you think about what's important," said Slabaugh, who is not a Mennonite but grew up among members of the faith in Dalton, Ohio, about 45 miles south of Cleveland. "You're not invincible, as maybe young people feel."

Tuesday's accident gave him more food for thought -- about whether he ought to avoid multi-passenger vehicles from now on.

"It definitely makes you think," Slabaugh said through nervous laughter. "I was very fortunate to be able to survive two (crashes) in a period of four years."