The Union City First United Pentecostal Church in Tennessee thanked members of the public for an “outpouring of love and support” Tuesday, days after 11 children were injured in a crash during a trip in the ministry's van on Saturday.
“Right now the only thing that we are releasing is that we are thanking everyone for their thoughts and prayers concerning the accident. We appreciate the outpouring of love and support but we do ask that they respect the privacy and rights of the families involved as they heal and recover,” a representative of the church told The Christian Post on Tuesday.
Sheriff Terry Miller of Clay County, Arkansas, told KAIT8 that the church’s van, in which the children were traveling to Doniphan, Missouri, for a float trip on the Current River, collided with a commercial vehicle carrying fish at about 1 p.m. on Highway 67 near Highway 328.
The children were all hospitalized while the driver of the church van was uninjured, KAIT8 said. As of Monday, all of the children except three, who remain in critical but stable condition, were released to their families.
The Union City Church crash happened about 90 minutes before nine children and one adult connected to the Tallapoosa County Girls Ranch, a Christian group home in Alabama perished in a fiery crash on Interstate 65 in Butler County. The children were returning from a weeklong trip to the Gulf Shores when the Tallapoosa County Girls Ranch van caught fire, setting off a massive multi-vehicle crash which is being investigated by authorities.
Desiree Bishop of Mobile, Alabama, who is related to four of the children who died on Saturday, told FOX 10 News, “They were just all sweet loving children.”
Bishop identified the victims as: Nicholas Dunnavant, 8, and his 12-year-old brother, Josiah Dunnavant. She also lost 16-year-old Isabella Gulley and her brother, 3-year-old Benjamin Gulley, who are the late children of her niece, Candace Gulley, the sole survivor of the crash who was driving the van at the time of the accident.
“You never would have expected and you never dreamed and you never want it to [happen to] anybody else or yourself,” Bishop said. “It’s a high price to pay. It just comes in waves of grief, just waves of grief.”
Brotherhood Mutual, which has been insuring churches in the U.S. and related ministries for more than 100 years, advises ministries to take several precautions to avoid tragedy when going on ministry road trips, including ensuring vehicles are properly inspected, drivers are safe, and promoting distraction-free driving.
Data from the CDC show that distracted drivers kill more than 3,000 people a year in the U.S. and injure more than 400,000.
“Your ministry can help prevent crashes on church trips by educating drivers about traffic safety issues and enacting policies that promote distraction-free driving,” the ministry insurer notes.
Brotherhood mutual also encourages the selection of drivers who are trained and experienced in transporting people.
“Choose drivers that are specially trained to handle a larger van or bus. The most severe accidents usually are caused by drivers’ lack of understanding of the handling dynamics of longer vehicles, which are more prone to rollover than cars,” the company adds.