Fatal Crash Leaves 7 Dead, 33 Injured

Feb 18, 2003 07:04 PM EST

WACO, Texas – More than 75 emergency workers rushed to the Interstate 35 running just outside the small town of Hewitt Texas, where a church bus carrying 30 elders crashed into the oncoming traffic. The Feb. 14 accident left seven people dead, and 33 injured.

Although exact causes of the accident is still under investigation, the Texas Department of Public Safety believes that the driver of the charter bus lost control of the vehicle while swerving to avoid slow traffic. The bus then slid towards oncoming traffic, rolling onto an SUV, instantly killing two of its three occupants; several of the passengers were tossed from the bus in the process. The DPS assume the heavy rain played a role in causing the accident.

The charter bus was carrying more than 30 members of the Memorial Baptist Church in Temple, Texas; the group was traveling to an afternoon Bill Gaither Homecoming concert at the Reunion Arena in Dallas. Most of those aboard the bus were respected members of the community; most were over 60 years old.

Killed aboard the bus were Dolores Hinton, 72; Jo Freeman, 70; Martha McKee, 77; and husband and wife, Melvin, 76, and Delois "Speedie" Akers, 72. Killed in the SUV were Brenda Dobelbower, 48, and Janice Roberson, 61.

Donnie Hagen, 52, the third person aboard the SUV was among the 33 injured in the accident. Fifteen of the injured passengers were taken to Hillcrest Baptist Medical Center in nearby Waco, Texas; eighteen were taken to Providence Health Center in Waco.

According to Kim Patterson, spokeswoman for the McLennan Community College, the three passengers in the SUV were administrators in the health careers Department of the College.

The pastor of the Memorial Baptist Church, Roy Parker, rushed to the scene upon hearing the news. He stayed at the site to comfort several of the victims.

"These people are my friends. They are my family, and I love them very much," Parker said.

Afterwards, Parker returned to the Church to comfort the remaining congregants who assembled at the sanctuary to pray. That night, the church dedicated a prayer service for the victims.

"It will be a sad, sad city when word gets out," Parker said of those who had been killed. "We are devastated. I feel numb. ... These are some of the finest Christians on God's good earth, and I know where they are -- they are in heaven."

"Sometimes bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people," Parker told the Waco Tribune-Herald. "The final page has not turned. All things will be equal in the end. We know God loves us, and this is not part of his wrath.

"We feel a sense of peace now because we know, as Christians, Jesus said, 'I go to prepare a place for you, and I will receive you there.' We know where they are, and we know we will see them again someday."

The congregation is now focusing more on comforting the family and friends of the victims Numerous people around the country called to comfort us, said Parker.

Michael Haynes, police and fire chaplain in Temple who helped the victims at the accident scene, said the church will pull through from the tragedy.

"These people take life pretty well. They've been around long enough to know that bad things happen to good people, but it's still tragic," Haynes said.

Bill Gaither issued a statement to the media before the concert concerning the accident before his concert.

"Our thoughts and prayers go to each of the victims of this tragic accident, and to their families. These individuals will undoubtedly be present in our hearts as we sing about the hope of heaven during the concert they were traveling to attend today," Gaither told the concertgoers at Reunion Arena of the accident.

"All are part of a tight-knit family," Gaither said. "When one part of our family is aching, all are aching."

The National Transportation Safety Board dispatched a nine member investigative team to examine the scene of the accident in an attempt to discover how the information gathered from the site can be used to prevent future accidents. Preliminary investigations of the bus company revealed no patterns of accidents; the driver was not suspected of being under the influence of alcohol or drugs during the time of the accident.

By Paulina C.