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Mission trip ends in turnpike tragedy; driver killed, 7 injured

WINTER PARK, Fla. (BP)–An uplifting mission trip ended in sudden tragedy for Aloma Baptist Church, Winter Park, Fla., when a tire blew out on the church van July 16, causing it to flip and crash, killing the driver and injuring the seven others riding in the vehicle.
Yet, even in tragedy the church was able to see victories: Each of the accident victims had led someone to salvation during the mission trip, and at least seven people accepted Christ during the July 22 funeral service for the driver, Bill Rabun.
The accident occurred on Florida’s Turnpike near the Orange/Lake County line just before 6 p.m. as the church’s youth mission team was returning from a week of ministry with Cypress Baptist Church near Marianna, Fla.
They had served in Vacation Bible School, door-to-door witnessing and revival services.
According to a report in the Orlando Sentinel, the rear tire on the driver’s side of the van separated and blew out, sending the vehicle — which was pulling a trailer with choir robes and luggage — down a grassy slope. It flipped twice and landed against a fence.
Three of the injured passengers were airlifted to Orlando Regional Medical Center; four others were taken there by ambulance.
Those injured included Rabun’s wife, Susie; Bonnie and Will Gilliland, wife and 3-year-old son of Aloma youth pastor Brian Gilliland; and youth and young adult team members Mandy Wright, Laura McCue, Shannon LaFoy and Faith Crouse.
The youth pastor and the Rabuns’ 13-year-old daughter, Mindy, were among approximately 25 people on the church bus traveling ahead of the van when the accident occurred.
Three of the van passengers remained hospitalized as of July 26. Susie Rabun was still in the intensive care unit in critical condition and not conscious, but was reported as making progress. Peggy Hattaway, secretary to Aloma pastor Anthony George, said family and friends were encouraged to learn that while Susie Rabun’s back was broken in three places, there was no apparent spinal cord injury. A lengthy hospitalization is anticipated.
McCue, 19, who had regained consciousness after being in a coma, was still in neurological ICU.
Wright, 13, underwent surgery on her hip and jaw. As of Monday she had been moved from ICU to a regular room and was able to begin receiving visitors. She faces additional surgeries.
Bonnie Gilliland, who was pulled out from under the van with severe burns, broken bones and other injuries, was released July 22. The others were released earlier after being treated for broken bones, cuts and bruises, and other minor injuries.
Bill Rabun, 45, was employed by Orlando Utilities Commission, Hattaway noted. He had taken a week off work to help sponsor the mission trip.
Church members and the community have rallied around the families impacted by the accident, Hattaway said. Several Sunday school classes took responsibility for individual families, helping with housekeeping, baby-sitting, lawn care and other needs. A local grocery store sent food to the church, a dry-cleaning business offered its services to clean choir robes and many others in the community called the church to express concern.
A blood drive was held at the church July 25, Hattaway said, and an Aloma Baptist Family Relief Fund was started at First Union Bank to help with any needs of the accident victims and their families.