‘We’re stronger:’ Student reflects six months after fatal church van accident
By J.J. Kindred | (email@example.com)
Sept. 16, 2012, is a day that Nick Davis will never forget.
Having just begun his freshman year at Carson-Newman University, where he is majoring in nursing, Davis decided to go on a weekend retreat to Gatlinburg with his fellow youth group members from Cedar Grove Baptist Church in Maryville.
A good time turned into tragedy. As the church’s van was returning that Sunday, it was involved in a head-on collision that killed the church’s youth pastor, 45-year-old Jeff Trussell, who was driving the van, and a Seymour High School student, 16-year-old Courteney Kaliszewski. Twelve other young people were injured.
Davis was following the van in another vehicle and stopped at the accident scene to help many of the injured youth out of the van and attend to anyone else who was shaken up.
Six months have gone by since the accident. On Sunday, Davis presented the message as part of Cedar Grove’s Youth Sunday, where many of the church’s youth, including some who were involved in last year’s accident, led and participated in the service.
In a phone interview with The Daily Times Monday evening, Davis, 19, talked about how his faith helped him become more appreciative of his life and helping those around him.
“(On Sunday) I talked about the wrong reasons to go to church, because people just talk about wanting to go there and hang out and whatever, but the real reason to love the church is that we love God, and the church is a body of believers,” Davis said. “We’re all to be the church and to act and love others.”
Davis, who graduated from Heritage High School last year, would not go into specific details about what happened during the accident. He said the past six months have been haunting for him, but things have gotten better.
“People have been praying for us, and we’ve gotten a lot of community support,” Davis said. “Our youth group and church have been doing a lot of activities, so that’s been a relief for us. We didn’t want to let (the accident) stop us from doing what were supposed to do when called by God. In the past few months, we’ve been helping out and do community work and serving God. We didn’t want to let this stop us completely.
“For me, the past few months I feel like I’ve grown stronger with God,” Davis continued. “I feel like he’s leading me to do more service for him and reach out to all the needs of others. That’s kind of a way Jeff always taught us. He was always a big fan of what it means to be a servant. “Our youth group and church has exemplified that. That’s kind of Jeff’s legacy — it’s basically like he’s still there, and his legacy still lives on. He taught us what to do in taking over, and hopefully we’re leading the younger youth to do the same as they get older.”
Davis said he thought his college experience could be in jeopardy from a psychological standpoint after the accident, and it made him question his faith.
“Being on the scene, I was questioning God and is this going to make me lose all faith,” he said. “It actually, in turn, felt stronger and made me more close. It has taken a toll on my college experience so far, but going in I was pretty excited about what this year would bring. After the wreck, it made me realize how important school is, and other things in life.
“A lot of people don’t get to go to college,” Davis continued. “I was taking that for granted and after the wreck, I realized I’m here for a reason, and that’s to help serve the Lord. It made me realize there are more important things in life — it’s basically changed my perspective and to stay strong in the Lord and stay strong in school. I think it will be a roller coaster kind of deal, but I think ever since the wreck, it’s been a life changer, and in the long run it will be for the better.”
Davis said he has talked among his friends and fellow youth group members about the accident, and he has used the experience to encourage those around him.
“Some of my closest friends from Heritage and Carson-Newman, they have all been an encouragement to me, and I’ve kind of helped. It’s been a blessing in disguise,” Davis said. “So many people have been helped by this tragedy, but it’s kind of tough to talk about it. People like Jeff and Courteney were great examples of what it should be like to be a Christian, describing them and how they lived their lives. It seems like it’s rubbing off on other people.”