Family reflects on church youth leader killed in collision
By J.J. Kindred | (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Jeff Trussell was known as a man who just “loved.”
As the youth leader of Cedar Grove Baptist Church in Maryville, he was showing that love by driving his church’s van full of members of his youth group from a weekend retreat in Gatlinburg Sunday morning.
The van was hit head-on as it was traveling up Chapman Highway in Seymour, causing it to burst into flames and killing Trussell, 45, and 16-year-old Courteney Joe Kaliszewski of Seymour, plus severely injuring 12 others.
“Jeff loved people,” said his wife, Kim Trussell. “He loved his job, he loved his family, he loved his church — he loved those youth so much, and he loved our animals — we have four dogs. He had so much love and compassion and leadership. On top of it all, he just loved. He got a lot done in 45 years.”
Born on a Naval base in Japan, Trussell was a quality control specialist at Green Mountain Coffee Roasters in Knoxville for two years, after working as a quality control supervisor for the Pepsi Bottling Group for 18 years. He was a 1985 graduate of Heritage High School.
The family will receive friends from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Friday, with a memorial service to follow at 6:30 p.m. Friday at Cedar Grove Baptist Church. Family and friends will meet at 11 a.m. Saturday at Cedar Grove Baptist Church Cemetery for inurnment.
Kim Trussell and their 20-year-old son, Dylan, visited The Daily Times Tuesday afternoon to reflect on Trussell’s life and accomplishments. Kim Trussell was in another vehicle traveling alongside the van before it crashed and was on the scene helping the other victims, but would not comment specifically on what happened during the accident.
“Our youth retreat had four sessions on King David, talking about how to overcome your giants, and having a true friend in your life that will hold you accountable, even when that’s not easy,” Kim Trussell said.
“No matter what someone has done in their life, they are loved and anointed by God and have a purpose in their life.
‘We were home’
“I grew up in Valley Grove Baptist Church on Chapman Highway, but Jeff felt like that was a little too big for us,” she continued. “Once we were at Cedar Grove, we knew we were home. We started singing in choir, helping in Vacation Bible School, and doing things here and there with the youth.
“Jeff hadn’t been going to church until he and I met. He got saved after Dylan was born. He had to look in Dylan’s eyes and knew that there was something bigger than him on this earth. He used to call it ‘cosmic glop.’ He wanted Dylan to make sure he had that experience and we stepped up as his parents.
“We have served in that (youth ministry) capacity along with a few other people for 10 years. We decided this was going to be our last year of doing this. In January, we were going to start a young adult class and start the next chapter in our lives.”
Kim Trussell described her husband as having the ability to make anything fun.
“He was the funniest person I have ever known in my life,” she said. “Dylan picked up a lot of lingo from his dad.”
“He was the most amazing dad,” added Dylan Trussell, a 2010 graduate of Heritage High School and a food service employee at the University of Tennessee Medical Center. “He was my hero and my idol. I wanted to be just like him.
“He was mainly into sports and I wasn’t, but sometimes I would sit down and watch a game with him. He liked UT, but he was the biggest Dallas Cowboys fan. We loved playing video games and watching scary movies together. He would listen to some old metal or rock n’ roll and give me a history of the bands. I was with him from the very beginning in the youth group.”
Kim Trussell said her husband was “one of those ex-Deadheads that played chess, and a computer nerd. There were so many facets to him. He loved spending time with us and his brother, who was his best friend besides us.
“My dad died of leukemia, and (Jeff) showed that life was so quick and to do things while you can,” she continued. “We had all these plans of things we were going do this fall, and now that we’re not going to be able to do that, I’m crushed beyond all words. But you know what? We will do all those things in Heaven.”
Kaliszewski, who was a junior at Seymour High School, was a member of the Youth Beta Club and the National Honor Society of High School Scholarships. She was one of the most active members of the Cedar Grove Baptist youth group and was also active in missions.
Funeral services will be held for Kaliszewski at 1 p.m. Thursday at Atchley Funeral Home in Seymour, with visitation to be held from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. today at the funeral home.
Seymour High officials would not comment on Kaliszewski, but issued a statement through Debra Cline, assistant superintendent of Sevier County Schools:
“The school family at Seymour High School is deeply saddened by the tragic death of Courteney Kailszewski on Sunday, Sept. 16, 2012. We extend our sympathy, thoughts and concern to Courteney’s family at this difficult time.
“Courteney was a gentle, kind and caring individual whose influence will continue to positively impact our lives. Our care and concern also go out to others involved in the accident.”
Meanwhile, the Tennessee Highway Patrol and Sevier County District Attorney’s Office are continuing to gather information to discuss possible charges against the driver who crashed into the church van with his 1997 Chevy Blazer, 21-year-old Tyler J. Schaeffer, of Seymour.
Schaeffer is currently at UT Medical Center, where no information was available on his condition, according to the nursing supervisor’s office.
A “powdery substance” was found in Schaeffer’s vehicle and has been sent to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation for analysis, according to THP.
“We’re still gathering information and still trying to get things analyzed from the crime lab,” Sevier County District Attorney General Jimmy Dunn told The Daily Times Tuesday.
“We’re definitely looking at what’s already being reported as a vehicle on the wrong side of the road. Now it’s up to us to figure out why. Once we do, we will make our decision on how to proceed. With so many folks involved in this, we have to gather all the information and can’t rush to make a decision.”
Kim Trussell concluded that her husband “died doing what God wanted him to be doing. I wish it wasn’t the way it was, and I don’t understand why it was the way it was.
“There’s been a tremendous outpouring of church love from the very point of the scene. They said, ‘Whatever you need, we will take care of it.’ It’s going to hurt for a long, long time, but we’re going to be OK.”