The 10,000-member Celebration Church community in Louisiana is grieving after Claude Williams, pastor of the church’s Westbank campus, was killed with two others Sunday after he stopped to help a stranded motorist.
The church’s Lead Pastor, Dennis Watson, revealed in a letter that Williams and his longtime friend Jeff Leinart, who are both 49, had stopped on the Westbank Expressway to help a man change a flat tire.
“As many in our church family know all too well, life is filled with unexplainable tragedies. Last night such a tragedy occurred when your Celebration Westbank Campus Pastor, Claude Williams, was taken from this life in a traffic accident. As far as we can tell, Pastor Claude and his longtime friend Jeff Leinart stopped on the elevated Westbank Expressway to assist someone who had a flat tire. While they were assisting the person someone else hit them and the car they were working on, and their lives and another person’s life were ended,” Watson announced Monday.
State police told The New Orleans Advocate Williams and Leinhart had stopped to assist Ivan Chopin, 66, of Marrero, at about 10:30 p.m. on Sunday when the crash occurred.
A New Orleans man, Todd Williams, 40, who police suspect was intoxicated, was hospitalized and later arrested and charged with three counts of vehicular homicide for the crash.
“Pastor Claude’s wife, Twila, and their boys (Emmett, Elijah and Emory) were in Knoxville, Tennessee, visiting her mother. They and Pastor Claude’s mother have been told about what has happened. Let’s pray for them constantly, asking the Lord, the ‘God of all comfort’ (2 Corinthians 1:3) to help them process through their pain and sorrow in the coming weeks, month and years. We will stand with them and assist them in every week in the coming days,” Watson said.
“Pastor Claude was known by our Celebration family to be a faithful, faith-filled, godly and loving leader and a great example and encourager to many. However to you he’s been your pastor, your friend, your confidant, your caregiver and many other things. So our hearts are especially broken for you, as well as, for his immediate family,” he told members of the Westbank campus.
Watson further noted that he canceled a planned trip to Colombia to be with the members of the Westbank campus this Sunday.
He also shared how in conversation in recent days as well as well as in a report Williams shared with him just a day before he died, he expressed a deep passion for his work and his family.
“In the report that Pastor Claude sent to me and our Campus Pastors yesterday he shared with us that yesterday was an outstanding day at Celebration Westbank. He was excited about praying for 7 little children during our Blessing of the Children times, preaching about the story of Abraham and Isaac from Genesis 22, having the largest non-Easter attendance ever at Celebration Westbank, and seeing how people responded to the worship service and ministry,” Watson said.
“I spent time this past week with him, and in that time we talked about his love for his family, his love for you his Celebration Westbank family, and his love for people who live on the Westbank. His transition to Heaven is a great experience for him, but it is a heartbreaking loss for all of us who knew and loved him and were blessed to call him our friend,” he added.