A Gainesville church’s mission trip took a terrifying turn Wednesday afternoon when the group’s van crashed on Highway 92 East in Kentucky, leaving two adult leaders and three teenagers injured — but their mission wasn’t interrupted for long.
Even as her father, youth leader Terry Taphouse, was extracted from the crushed van, Tracy Taphouse, a member of the youth group, kept her faith in mind.
"She actually stepped out and led praise and worship," said Bill Compton, pastor at Belmont Baptist Church, located just off Candler Road near the Jackson County line. "People are just being blown away by the witness of our kids in this tragedy."
The Belmont group, along with youth from Walnut Fork Baptist Church in Hoschton and North Metro First Baptist Church in Lawrenceville, was on a mission trip in Kentucky when the incident occurred, Compton said.
He said a transfer tractor-trailer came onto the wrong side of the road and hit the van, carrying a total of 13 passengers.
Kevin Smith, assistant fire chief for Williamsburg, Ky., was on the scene after the accident and said both vehicles were taking a sharp turn before the crash. He said it had been raining during the day and was still sprinkling at the time of the accident.
"The driver was pinned really, really bad," Smith said. "He had a lot of leg trauma."
Terry Taphouse, youth minister for Belmont Baptist, was driving the van. His wife, Lois Taphouse, was in the passenger’s seat.
Wednesday evening, the husband and wife were transported to the University of Kentucky Hospital in Lexington, Compton said.
He said he had received word that the injuries were not life threatening, though there were concerns earlier that Terry Taphouse might need a leg amputation.
Compton said the injured teenagers — Holly Hawkins from Belmont Baptist, Derek Worley from Walnut Fork and Morgan Heslep from North Metro — were already back with the group. He said they were treated for minor injuries, such as one hairline fracture, at Jellico Community Hospital in Jellico, Tenn.
For Karen Moon, whose daughter, Lydia Moon, was in a second church van following the one involved in the accident, the outcome is a "miracle."
"It’s a miracle they weren’t hurt worse," said Moon, who had seen pictures of the crushed van. Lydia Moon, 13, called shortly after the crash, shaken and crying but unhurt.
The group was returning from an activity at Whitley County East Elementary School in Siler, Ky.
Compton said the 29-person mission team plans to continue their work as scheduled, through June 13. Some members of Belmont Baptist will travel to Kentucky to join the group, dividing their time between the hospital and the mission work.
The youth were leading vacation Bible schools and other activities for organizations in Whitley County, which Compton said is one of the poorest counties in Kentucky.
"They’re a wonderful, wonderful group," said John Clifton, principal of Whitley County East Elementary, where the students had been just prior to the accident. "It was a good wholesome learning experience, and our kids had a great time with them."
Clifton said the teens played games and conducted fun activities to help teach his students about proper manners and behavior.
Despite the accident, Compton remained positive, saying the church as a whole will grow from this experience.
"More than anything else it pulls us together," he said Wednesday evening after leading a group of about 20 church members in a prayer gathering. "Something like this brings you to your knees and brings your people together."
Executive Editor Mitch Clarke contributed to this report.