DALLAS (BP)–Charlton Younkin helped save lives when a chartered bus crashed into a concrete support on Interstate 20 June 24, killing five people and injuring 35. But it’s the one life that he couldn’t save that the student ministry intern will remember for the rest of his life — a young girl who passed into eternity while he held her dying body.
Charlton Younkin loves teenagers. The 21-year-old history major at Texas A&M decided to return home for summer break so he could work as a student ministry intern at Metro Church of Garland. His job assignment for the summer was to love kids and lead them to Christ — and chaperone the Student Life Camp being held at La. Tech in Ruston, La.
Younkin and another chaperone herded the teenagers into one of two buses that would take the kids across the state line into Louisiana. Younkin took up his position on the next to the last seat in the back of the chartered bus.
Middle school students bubbled with excitement, laughing and talking, while some older teens dozed off. It was a normal, uneventful youth trip — until about 9:20 a.m.
That’s when authorities say something catastrophic happened. The bus veered off the road and slammed into a concrete support column on Interstate 20. Younkin was one of the few people on the bus who didn’t immediately black out.
“It was so quick that I didn’t see the accident happening,” Younkin told Baptist Press. “At impact I got hit in the face. I was dazed.”
On the final impact, when the force of the collision ripped the bus almost in half, Younkin said passengers flipped forward. Younkin was bruised and bleeding from minor injuries.
“When everything stopped, I stood up and there was a lot of silence,” he said. “It seemed like a long time but it was only a few seconds.”
Then, Younkin said, the screams came. “The kids just started screaming in pain,” he said. “I was in the very back of the bus when we hit and when I was thrown, everyone ended up in front of me. I got up and started checking on the kids.”
Younkin’s fellow chaperone, the church’s singles pastor had been knocked out of the bus and was incapacitated by a fractured pelvis.
The first student Younkin found was Michael Freeman. The 12-year-old boy had been killed on impact. He carried the boy out of the bus and went back inside to evacuate survivors.
When he climbed back into the wreckage, Younkin found Amanda Maxwell, a 13-year-old cheerleader and active youth group member. She was still alive.
“She was breathing but she couldn’t open her eyes or speak,” Younkin said. “So I just started talking to her. I didn’t want to move her because she was hurt. I told her I wasn’t going to leave her.”
As the young student intern held Maxwell, she passed away. Younkin then carried her to a field where other victims were being tended.
Younkin walked through the field trying to encourage the injured teens awaiting medical help.
Younkin’s parents, who are divorced, learned of the bus crash from a police officer.
Carolyn Younkin told Baptist Press that her son was heartbroken over the tragedy. “He is a very brave young man but he really was heartbroken about Amanda.”
The Younkins were reunited with their son at Terrell Medical Center. After being treated for his injuries, they found Younkin in a wheelchair trying to cheer up the teens.
Younkin was discharged later that day but before going home, he told his parents that he had to complete one final act — he needed to see Amanda Maxwell’s parents.
Gina Camp, the wife of Metro’s pastor, Steve Camp, recounted what happened at Maxwell’s home.
“He came to the home straight from the hospital,” Camp said. “His clothes were ripped, blood on his shirt. But he told Dave Meehan (Amanda’s father) that he got to hold Amanda — that he held her the whole time.”
“I wanted to let them know their daughter didn’t die alone,” he said.
What happened next brought tears to Camp’s eyes.
“Dave Meehan, a man of faith, laid his hands on Charlton’s shoulder and prayed that God would protect his memory from the horrific things he saw,” she said. “It was so powerful.”
Younkin said he believes that God wanted him to come home for the summer and work with teenagers, but he doesn’t understand why the crash had to happen.
“I don’t think it’s really hit me (the crash),” he said. “I’ve got a lot of family and friends who are supporting me through this.”
As for the teenagers, Younkin said they are spiritually sound. “They know that God has a plan and a purpose,” he said. “They don’t understand but they recognize that God is sovereign. He works all things for the good of those who love him.”