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Church bus crashes; 1 killed, 6 in hospital

MERIDIAN, Miss. (BP)–A teenage boy was killed, six people remained hospitalized and several others suffered broken bones after a church bus crashed involving students from First Baptist Church in Shreveport, La.

The bus was carrying more than 20 teenagers and adults on their way to Passport youth camp in Macon, Ga., July 12 when a tire blew out and caused the bus to roll over on Interstate 20 near Meridian, Miss.

Elane Blackwell, an administrative assistant at First Baptist Shreveport, told Baptist Press the church’s youth pastor, Jason Matlack, remained in intensive care at a Meridian hospital on Monday. He was expected to recover.

Two girls, including the daughter of the church’s associate pastor for emerging ministries, were pinned under the bus when it rolled over, Blackwell said.

“Pray for our children. We had a family that lost a little boy. He was going to be a freshman in high school,” Blackwell said. Among the injured she noted that “Our associate pastor’s daughter is the one that is so bad, and it’s just touch and go. She needs brain surgery, and they can’t even do that because she’s not stable enough.”

The church identified the boy who was killed as Brandon Ugarte, and his funeral mass will be July 15 at the Cathedral of St. John Berchmans in Shreveport. The other girl who was pinned under the bus appears to be recovering, Blackwell said.

When the crash occurred, a unit from the Alabama National Guard happened to be traveling nearby, and the soldiers were able to upright the bus and provide immediate medical care.

Churches in the Meridian area rushed to help, including some members of First Baptist Church in Meridian.

“We had the chief deputy of the county sheriff’s department in our church, and he stopped me right after the service because he got texted during the service,” Matt Snowden, associate pastor at First Baptist Meridian, told BP. “We were able to call the pastor in Shreveport and get on it immediately.”

Some of the victims were taken to hospitals in Meridian, and some went to the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson.

“We initially helped the church in Shreveport find where everybody was,” Snowden said. “Everybody was scattered. Then yesterday afternoon we helped with some small logistical things, moving bags around and helping people get to the airport. It’s mainly stuff like that — picking up lunch and getting supper lined up and things like that. Buying socks for ladies who need socks — just little small things.”

Because the victims were from a church youth group, Snowden said there wasn’t much need for his church to provide counseling.

“You have built-in counseling mechanisms there already. They’re really kind of leaning on each other,” he said. “I think the role of the Meridian churches has not been so much direct pastoral care but handling all the junk that has to be handled — the small, practical things.”

Fifteenth Avenue Baptist Church in Meridian was close to the crash site, so people from that church retrieved scattered luggage and took it to their building until it could be claimed.

Snowden also mentioned Highland Baptist Church and Northcrest Baptist Church in Meridian as well as a local Methodist church and a Catholic church that were on hand to help.

“I think most of the Baptist churches probably did feel a special kinship, but really all the churches in our community have felt the blow of this,” Snowden said.

Blackwell of First Baptist Shreveport expressed gratitude for those in Meridian and at the hospital in Jackson who showed up to help in the aftermath of the crash.

“It’s been an incredible outpouring of Christian love,” she said.

Besides the six people who remain hospitalized, a statement on the church’s website said the others who were injured had returned to Shreveport Sunday night with “broken bones, fractured collar bones and lots of bruises.”

The congregation had received word of the accident shortly before the morning worship service, and they rallied in prayer for the victims. That evening, a hymn service included prayer and periodic updates on the injured.

“Our congregation is leaning on our faith and confidence in God, balancing direct action with reliance on the goodness and power of God,” Greg Hunt, pastor of First Baptist Shreveport, said on the church’s website, commending volunteers for their “heroic support.”

Wayne Smith, pastor of Fifteenth Avenue Baptist, said people from his church were quick to help because “that’s what you do.”
Erin Roach is a staff writer for Baptist Press.

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