The first baby, tiny Sarah Holloway, died last Saturday in Hartford, Conn., but John Hoskins still thought there was time.

He placed his entire family and other followers of his religious sect - all of them apparently ill - in a Chevy van and sent them off on a trip to Nashville, and then he waited.

He was waiting for an autopsy report on Sarah's death, he now says, because he thought "we might be able to contain this thing ourselves."

But they did not contain "this thing," and before the van's zigzag journey around the East Coast had ended, another baby was dead, a third was critically ill and authorities up and down the coast have launched a search for the vehicle.

Hoskins, leader of a small religious sect known as the Church in Christ Jesus, yesterday told a reporter that he and his followers seek medical attention "when it is clearly essential to sustain the life process."

"We're not just jumping to a physician because of some unknown difficulty," he said. "We wanted the best available evidence to justify us going to the hospital."

The 35-year-old Hoskins sought medical treatment for himself and his family on Friday at Howard University Hospital in Washington, where authorities said they are being treated for infectious diarrhea.

Hospital officials said the family members, including Hoskins's six children, are in stable condition at the Washington hospital.

Hoskins said the illness apparently started during an April trip to Haiti, where he and several followers went to do missionary work. But because they often suffered the same symptoms after similar trips they thought nothing of it, he said.