Friends and relatives of beloved Kansas Pastor Phillip Hett, 39, are now grappling with grief after he was killed along with his 10-year-old daughter, Abigail, in a crash on Sunday. The pastor’s 13-year-old daughter, Jillian, who was traveling with them at the time of the accident, survived.
“I don’t think it’s really sunk in yet that they’re gone,” family member Toby Peck told KWCH12. “It’s going to be really hard when it finally does sink in.”
The Kansas Highway Patrol cited in a Fox 4 report said the crash that killed the pastor and his younger daughter happened around 1:30 p.m. Sunday, some 8 miles south of Salina on Interstate 135. Investigators said a northbound pickup truck driven by 24-year-old Christopher Giroux of Salina crossed the interstate median into southbound lanes and collided with another pickup truck that was being driven by Hett. Jillian has been hospitalized with serious injuries.
Pastor Hett served as the spiritual leader of Bethany Village, a retirement community, which is a mission of the Evangelical Lutheran Churches of America.
Kris Erickson, CEO of Bethany Village, asked for people to pray for the pastor’s family in a statement to The Christian Post on Wednesday, and said they were “in shock.”
“The Bethany Village family is in shock and is grieving the loss of our beloved pastor and friend Phil Hett. We also grieve the loss of his beautiful daughter Abigail. Phil was an amazing man, a great friend, and a wonderful pastor. He was the spiritual center of our mission. He was the person we would turn to in our time of loss and grief, and now we face this loss without his presence,” Erickson noted.
“He has left us with lessons in faith and love that allow us to hold one another up as we come to terms with this tragedy. Our prayers are with his family, his daughter Jillian, and all who loved him as we grieve with them. We also pray for the family and loved ones of the young man who was involved in the accident,” he added.
He further noted that Hett was an example to everyone.
“He was always available to help our residents, their families, and his coworkers in times of crisis. His kindness and compassion was unparalleled, and his ministry was an example to us all. His sermons would include personal stories and moments we could all relate to as he led us to a deeper understanding of faith and service to others. He was a brilliant theologian. I would go to him for a better understanding of a scriptural passage, and I would leave his office an hour later having learned a history of world events, an understanding of the socio-political climate of the time, and often a translation of the early Greek texts relating to the passage,” he said, also acknowledging the late pastor’s sense of humor.
“Even in the most trying of times, he had a way of allowing you to laugh through your tears and come through with an understanding that all would be fine,” Erickson said.
Peck told KWCH12 that Hett “touched a lot of lives,” and was “very, very likable,” in the Lindsborg community.
He also called Abigail, “fun,” “super smart” and “very talented.”
“It’s still not real yet,” he said of their deaths. “It’s just so unimaginable that this happened. Everybody thinks this can’t happen to you and it’s just, it’s awful.”
Even though they are grieving the loss of two lives, the family said Peck is grateful that Jillian survived.
“We’re lucky to have her,” Peck said. “It was a really bad wreck and some good Samaritans actually are the ones that pulled her out. And that’s why she’s with us. It’s amazing that anybody got out of there and she wouldn’t have had (it not) been for them.”
Anyone wanting to assist the Hett family with donations can write checks to “Bethany Home Association” with “Pastor Phillip Hett Memorial” written in the memo line.