June 24, 2002

RESCUE WORKERS and state troopers work the scene where a bus carrying youths to a church camp in Louisiana crashed into a bridge support on Interstate 20 in East Texas on June 24. killing at least five people, including the driver. The youths were from a church in the Dallas suburb of Garland.
(BP Photo courtesy of The Dallas Morning News, Michael Ainsworth)

Tears, song in bus crash aftermath
___By Ferrell Foster
___Texas Baptist Communications
___GARLAND--Ten hours after a bus crash took the lives of four teenagers and one adult, hundreds of people from Metro Church in Garland sang praise choruses to God along with believers from other area churches.
___While the music reflected a joy in Christ, people mingled around at the back of the sanctuary sharing hugs and tears.
___Many of the teenagers who had survived the crash attended the June 24 service. Some bore red wounds on their faces; others hobbled on crutches; some came dressed in aqua hospital garb. Still others clung to teddy bears given out by the Red Cross.
___A chartered bus carrying 47 teens to a camp in Louisiana had crashed into bridge supports along Interstate 20 near Terrell, east of Dallas, about 9:20 Monday morning, June 24.
___The bus, operated by Discovery Tours Unlimited, was one of two carrying the church youth to Louisiana. Authorities speculated the driver might have fallen asleep at the wheel, causing the bus to swerve off the pavement and slam into a concrete and steel bridge support. The impact sheered off the front left side of the bus, virtually demolishing the first five ro
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ws of seats on the left-hand side.
___Killed in the crash were Michelle Cheney, 14; Michael Freeman, 12; Lindsay Kimmons, 16; Amanda Maxwell, 13; and driver Ernest Sheldon Carter, 51. Many others went to seven area hospitals, and about 20 remained hospitalized late Monday, some in critical condition.
___Freeman, Kimmons and Maxwell regularly attended Metro Church, which is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist General Convention of Texas and Collin Baptist Association, said Joe Courrege, an elder and spokesman for the church. Cheney reportedly attended Arapaho Baptist Church and was going to the camp with a friend.
___ "They were great kids, just wonderful kids," Courrege said. He spoke of Maxwell singing before the church and of how she was an "aspiring young talent, … an active, pretty young lady. She was very well liked by everybody." He described Freeman as a "young man full of life."
___Senior Pastor Scott Camp said Kimmons had "just come to know Christ" in the past few weeks.
___"This is a great tragedy for our church," the pastor said, "but I've also experienced the love of Christ and the hope that only Christians can know at a time like this."
___The pastor met with parents of some of the deceased shortly after the accident and said he had seen the "joy of the Lord" in the midst of the sorrow and tears.
___"We will just get through this," Camp said. "Tragedy makes you either bitter or better."
___Harvey McCreary, a 17-year-old recent graduate of Naaman Forrest High School in Garland, was one of the survivors who attended the praise service. He wore hospital clothes and walked on crutches due to a deep cut in his foot. He had been sitting five seats from the back of the bus on the right side, the side opposite the main impact of the collision.
___"All I remember was (the bus) running over the guardrail and hitting the seat in front of me. … I woke up about 15 to 20 feet in front of the bus."
___McCreary called his dad on a borrowed cell phone. Eddie McCreary, associate pastor at the church, said his son told him: "It's bad, Dad. It's bad." Over the cell phone connection, the elder McCreary could hear screaming.
___His daughter, Jenny, also was on the bus. Harvey McCreary told his dad on the first call, "She was alive when I saw her last." He later confirmed that she was OK.
___A bright red abrasion on Kristan Grubbs' forehead also marked her as one of the victims in the midst of the hundreds at the praise service. The 16-year-old junior at Wylie High School had been sitting in the middle of the right-hand side of the bus. She also blacked out upon impact and woke up lying in the grass near the bus. Her head was bleeding, and she thought it was a dream, she said, because everything was "really fuzzy." Grubbs then turned around and saw the bus and realized this was not a dream.
___Despite a bruised knee, cuts on her back and bumps on her head, Grubbs stood with others in a church foyer after the service.
___Outside one of the church buildings, luggage removed from the wrecked bus was piled high, giving off a strong smell of diesel fuel. A tangled collection of portable CD players was stacked on a nearby table.
___Gene Grounds experienced the tragedy from another vantage point. Grounds is executive director of Victim Relief Ministries, sponsored by Texas Baptist Men, a ministry of the Baptist General Convention of Texas.
___He was called about an hour and a half after the accident, he said. Texas Baptist Men sent its disaster relief mobile center to the scene, but the unit left by mid-afternoon because it was not needed.
___Grounds' crisis counseling, however, was in demand. He and Eddie Traughber of Austin Street Church of Christ in Garland coordinated the counseling to families and victims.
___When they first arrived at about noon, the families of victims were at the church and no one knew the identities of the dead and injured. When the names of the deceased were confirmed, Grounds was among those who delivered the sad news to one set of parents.
___Later in the day, the counselors worked with the surviving teenagers, seeking to defuse the emotional trauma by allowing them to "communicate what they saw, tasted and smelled."
___"Today has been a very traumatic day in observing the pain and anxiety of families and a very rewarding day for the opportunity to provide emotional and spiritual assistance to all of these people," Grounds said late Monday.
___Counselors came from a variety of agencies, including the Red Cross, the Texas Department of Public Safety, Garland police, Rapha, Irving Christian Counseling, Baylor Medical Center chaplains and other groups.
___The Red Cross provided the teddy bears, which are part of a "therapeutic security process to give (the victims) something safe they can attach themselves to," Grounds said.
___Pastor Camp noted an "outpouring of support and love" from Christians around the country. "Our hearts are broken, but there are four or five teenagers who are in heaven right now, he said.
___"This church has been through a lot together" in the past, Camp said. "I'll ask them … to draw close together and close to the Lord. … This is the time to be family."


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