Four beloved members of a church choir were killed in a crash Tuesday night as they arrived at Mount Zion Baptist Church in Dinwiddie County, Virginia, where they were set to sing for a revival meeting.
Just as their church van turned to enter the parking lot of Mount Zion Baptist Church, a truck pulling a trailer full of metal slammed into it, killing four of the 11 people inside, the Virginia State Police told The New York Times. It was about 6:54 p.m.
The crash victims were identified by police as James Farley, 87; Wartena Somerville, 36; Delois Williams, 72; and Constance Wynn, 85, all of whom were members of Shiloh Baptist Church in Blackstone, Virginia.
"A Ford E-350 multi-passenger van was traveling west on Route 460 when it slowed to make a right turn into a church parking lot," a Virginia State Police spokesperson told CBS 6. "A Ford F-450 truck pulling a trailer loaded with metal failed to stop in time and rear-ended the van. The impact of the crash caused the van to overturn several times before it finally came to rest on its side off the right side of Route 460. Meanwhile, the truck ran off the left side of Route 460 and struck the guardrail."
Mount Zion Church Pastor Joseph Fields, who knew Williams and Farley, told CBS 6 that he was greeting people attending the revival meeting when he heard a loud boom, then discovered the smoking church van on its side.
He and others ran over to help but they were unable to open the doors of the vehicle. That’s when he reached inside the van and started grabbing hands, including Farley’s, and prayed to God for help.
"At the time I was doing all that praying, I’m going to tell you the God’s truth, I didn’t know that anyone had passed," Fields said. "I was shocked when they said four has [sic] passed on the scene. I was literally shocked."
Lafayette Dickens, another member of Shiloh Baptist's choir who had traveled to the revival in his own car and arrived shortly after the crash, said it was unexpected.
“I was coming from work and thought I was going to go there and it was going to be a routine church program, because we sing at different churches all the time,” he told the Times. “I thought it was going to be like any other time, but I guess the good Lord had other ideas.”
He described the scene as “pretty bad” and said he “just tried to calm people who lost loved ones as we found out who they were.”
Blackstone’s Mayor, William D. Coleburn, said his town of just 3,600 was devastated over the loss of the choir members.
“The people we lost and the people who were injured were the cream of the crop,” he told the Times. “Good God-fearing people who left their church on Tuesday night here in Blackstone and went 20 miles down the road to spread the good Word to another church.”
Farley was a former groundskeeper for Shiloh Baptist Church; Somerville was a local schoolteacher with a 9-month-old daughter; Williams was the chairwoman of the church’s deacon’s council; and Wynn had spent more than two decades on the town council Dickens and Coleburn said.
Somerville’s husband, Michael Sommerville, who returned to the crash site on Wednesday in search of her cellphone, said his wife was always happy.
“She had a little baby. She hugged and kissed us both before she left and waved because she was always happy and she smiled and waved and pull on off,” he said.
The driver of the truck that crashed into the church van has been identified as 47-year-old Robert Lee Allen of Norfolk. He suffered minor injuries and charges against him are pending.
A vigil for the deceased choir members will be held at Shiloh Baptist Church on Thursday at 6 p.m.