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Church mourns victims who were ‘backbone’ of small town

TALLULAH, La. (BP)–As families of 15 bus crash victims began to arrive in Tallulah, La., Oct. 13-14, Southern Baptists in the area looked for ways to minister to those affected.

The bus, which was carrying senior adults on a trip sponsored by First Baptist Church of Eldorado, Texas, crashed head-first into the back of an 18-wheeler parked on the side of Interstate 20 Oct. 13, killing eight people and injuring another seven. The driver, who survived, had fallen asleep, police told The News-Star newspaper in Monroe, La.

Andy Anderson, pastor of First Baptist Church in Eldorado, told the Fort-Worth Star Telegram that he’s “trying to deal with this just like everybody else.”

“I’ve tried to acknowledge everyone who’s come in here today and tell them what we know,” he said. “We’re doing the best we can for something that happened hundreds of miles away. … But this is tough to deal with. These are the type of people who were here every time the church doors opened. They were involved in this whole community and everyone — not just members of this church — is praying for them right now.”

The group, from the West Texas town of 2,000, was on a two-plus-week tour of historic sites, such as the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tenn., and the Civil War battlefield in Gettysburg, Pa. The crash occurred around 11 a.m. local time, and because Eldorado is more than 600 miles away, it took victims’ families half a day to arrive.

John Rushing, pastor of First Baptist church in Tallulah, La., went to the hospital shortly after the crash occurred.

“All 15 of them had to have medical care, because it was such a devastating situation,” he told Baptist Press. “I stood there for four hours waiting. … All I did was stand out there [in the hospital] and pray for them.”

The truck driver was carrying cotton bales and had pulled over to the shoulder to check his brakes, the News-Star reported.

“He was where he should have been on the shoulder,” Louisiana State Police Trooper Lewis told the newspaper. “He had just gotten back into the truck and was preparing to re-enter traffic when the crash occurred.”

The victims were taken to hospitals in Louisiana and Mississippi.

Eldorado Mayor John Nikolauk said the tragedy “kind of tears the guts out of this town,” the Star-Telegram reported. “These people are the heart, the backbone, the strength of this community. I don’t know how we’re going to survive it, but we’re going to buck up and deal with it like West Texans do. We don’t have any other choice.”

Brian Blackwell, a reporter from the Baptist Message of the Louisiana Baptist Convention, arrived on the scene later in the day.

Among several photographs that he took, the one “that got to me was of unopened loaves of bread and chips that some elderly person never got to enjoy that was in the rubble. I had never been to a tragic accident scene like that before, so when I first walked up I couldn’t believe what I saw. Everyone seemed down over there and I even saw a tear in one of the highway patrolmen’s eyes, and this was seven hours after the incident.”

The Associated Press reported the dead as: Delia Pina, Kennith Richardson, Betty A. Richardson, Domingo Pina and Mary Ruth Robinson, all of Eldorado; Jean S. Demere and Jimmy D. Teel, both of Water Valley, Texas; and Laverne Shannon, of San Angelo, Texas.

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