BALTIMORE (AP) — Five Baltimore men killed when a van careened off a southern Illinois freeway were members of an evangelical Christian church returning from a weeklong international conference in California, officials said Wednesday.

The church, Victory Outreach International of San Dimas, Calif., works largely in inner cities and provides residential alcohol and drug rehabilitation in many locations, said Philip LaCrue, the church’s overseer for Christian recovery. The Baltimore branch doesn’t operate a rehabilitation home.

The 15-passenger van overturned several times on Interstate 70 near Vandalia, about 70 miles east of St. Louis, Monday. The driver, who survived, was ticketed for improper lane usage and driving with a suspended license, police said.

The Fayette County, Ill., coroner identified the dead as Emerson Baldwin, 54; Andrew Canada, 53; Antonie Mitchell, 42; Mark William, 52; and Thomas Coleman, 29. Six other passengers in the van were injured, police said.

Baltimore attorney Jane Loving represented Baldwin in a 2009 case that led to a conviction for drug possession and a 10-month sentence. His criminal history stretched from a disorderly conduct conviction in 1986 to a drug possession conviction in March 2012, according to online court records.

“Maybe he had turned his life around,” Loving said. “If he was with a church group, maybe that’s a good sign.”

She said Baldwin had two children and was working as a steel cutter for a demolition company when she represented him in 2009.

LaCrue said the victims were returning from the annual Mighty Men of Valor convention in Ontario, Calif. The conference helps men find spiritual direction and their role in the church, according to the church website.

Illinois State Police said they were investigating the cause of the crash. Spokeswoman Monique Bond says the investigation will include a toxicology test.

© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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