Two killed in accident on Chapman Highway involving Maryville church van
By J.J. Kindred | (email@example.com)
Two people were killed and 12 others reportedd injured during a two-vehicle accident Sunday morning in Sevier County that involved a Maryville church van.
According to a report from the Tennessee Highway Patrol, the accident occurred at approximately 9:22 a.m. on Chapman Highway, near the intersection of Zion Hill Church Road in Seymour.
The accident involved a 15-passenger van with 13 passengers from Cedar Grove Baptist Church, located at 5302 Nails Creek Road in Maryville, and a 1997 Chevrolet Blazer.
The THP report said that the Blazer, driven by 21-year-old Tyler Schaeffer of Seymour, was traveling southbound on Chapman Highway and crossed over the center line on the highway and hit the van head on in the right hand lane on the northbound side, causing it to catch fire.
The driver of the van, identified as 45-year-old Jeff Trussell, the church’s youth director, was killed along with Courtney Kaliszewski, a passenger in the van who is said to be a teenager and a high school student.
Ten passengers, ranging from middle school to college-age, were injured and transported to the University of Tennessee Medical Center, and of those, two were transported to Children’s Hospital. At least two Lifestar helicopters and three ambulances transported the victims. The Seymour Volunteer Fire Department was also on the scene.
None of the other victims’ names nor their conditions have been released, and the incident is still under investigation, THP officials said.
Youth trip a reward for serving
Church members said the victims were returning from a weekend youth retreat in Gatlinburg when the accident happened. It was explained that the retreat, which was regularly scheduled, was at the same time a reward for those youth who participated in activities with Second Harvest Food Bank.
“They went up Friday to come back Sunday. We were at the church when got the call,” one church member said. “We’re walking around in the fog. We didn’t know what to do.”
Bob Lynch, pastor of Cedar Grove Baptist Church, was with the victims and their families at UT Medical Center, and the church canceled its evening services and invited those who wanted to pray at church if they wished.
“We are very devastated,” Lynch told The Daily Times Sunday afternoon. “We lost one of our adult leaders, and we lost a very special girl in Courtney. She had just gotten her driver’s license.
“(Jeff) was a very special man,” Lynch continued. “He was great with everything he did at our church. It’s very devastating, but the community has been reaching out tremendously.”
Prayer chains started
Sharon Coker, a lifelong church member who was at UT Medical Center with several members of the church’s congregation, as well as members of other churches, was one of the chaperones during the retreat and was traveling in another vehicle near the van during the accident. She said prayer chains instantly went out to other churches upon hearing the news.
“People that had been driving down Chapman Highway stayed on the scene,” Coker said. “People that were at church had sent phone calls and prayers until it was time to go to church. I don’t know how many different churches we’ve had here.
“We went to Gatlinburg Friday night and were en route back to church and had a caravan of
cars,” Coker continued, becoming emotional. “It’s not real right now. I had a vehicle full of kids
that I had to save that stayed here. I called 911 and we had started pulling people out. People
stopped along the road.
"You hear it happen to other people through tragedies, tribulations — and this time it was us," Coker said.
Chuck Jones, a church member and Trussell’s brother-in-law, had his daughter Kelsie in the van, and another child in one of the vehicles following the van with his sister-in-law. Kelsie was one of the victims and was in surgery.
“I was sitting down in our Sunday School class at church and we had just been seated and we were going to make comments about UT’s (football) loss,” said Jones, who was anxiously waiting on the doctor’s call for the surgery results. “One mama ran in and said our van has been involved in a very serious accident. I stood and said, ‘Fellas, I will be out front in my car in just a moment.’ The three of us met, and we went to the scene as quickly as we could.
“It is my understanding (Kelsie) was seated in the front row of the van,” Jones said. “She sustained some pretty serious lower quad injuries. Hopefully we will have some measure, but the long-term prognosis is good for her.”
Church members Steve and Rhonda Byrd said they were developing a close friendship with Courtney and her father, Joe.
“She was a sweet girl,”
Rhonda Byrd said. “I didn’t know her real well, but when I talked to her in church I realized she
was very nice.”
“We sit two rows behind them in church every Sunday,” Steve Byrd said. “They were real nice folks. When we found out, we just walked in the door and we were told what happened. Some folks from other churches brought food. The community has been really reaching out.”