Church van crash kills two

A church affiliated with the Tennessee Cooperative Baptist Fellowship is mourning the loss of a teenager and volunteer youth leader killed in a church van accident Sept. 16.

By Bob Allen

Two people were killed and 12 others injured Sunday morning when a van carrying youth from Cedar Grove Baptist Church in Maryville, Tenn., collided head-on with an SUV while returning from a weekend retreat in Gatlinburg.

The driver of the van, Jeff Trussell, and teenager Courteney Kaliszewski were killed. Ten passengers ranging from middle school to college age were transported to the University of Tennessee Medical Center. Two of those were transferred to Children’s Hospital. According to local media, at least two Lifestar helicopters and three ambulances transported the victims.

The driver of the SUV, 21-year-old Tyler J. Schaeffer of Seymour, Tenn., crossed the center line of Chapman Highway in Sevier County and struck the van head on, causing it to catch fire. Strangers stopped to help rescue passengers in the church van and offer aid until emergency vehicles arrived.

Trussell, 45, was a member of Cedar Grove Baptist Church who sang in the church choir, served as a deacon and acted as a volunteer youth leader. His obituary said he will be “remembered for his incredible sense of humor” and “his compassion and heart for God, the youth and all the people of Cedar Grove and his unwavering character and commitment to family, faith and fun.”

maryville courtneyKaliszewski, 16, was a junior at Seymour High School and a member of the National Honor Society. She was very active in the Cedar Grove Baptist Church youth group and with Big Creek Missions, a Kentucky-based Christian ministry that connects churches and volunteer groups to reach out to poor communities in Appalachia.

The weekend retreat was a regularly scheduled event, but this year was also a reward for youth who participated in activities with Second Harvest Food Bank of East Tennessee, church members told the Maryville Daily Times.

The Tennessee Highway Patrol and Sevier County District Attorney’s Office met Sept. 18 to discuss possible charges against the driver of the SUV. Police said a “powdery substance” was found in Schaeffer’s 1997 Chevy Blazer and sent to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation for analysis. He is a convicted felon released from prison in 2011 and placed on six years probation for burglary and robbery.

Funeral services for Trussell are scheduled at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 21, at Cedar Grove Baptist Church with Pastor Bob Lynch officiating. The family will receive friends at the church from 3 to 6 p.m. Graveside services will be at 11 a.m. Saturday at the Cedar Grove Baptist Church Cemetery.

Kaliszewski’s funeral is scheduled at 1 p.m. Thursday at Atchley Funeral Home in Seymour, Tenn., with burial to follow at Cedar Grove Cemetery. The family will receive visitors at the funeral home 4-8 p.m. Wednesday.

Cedar Grove Baptist Church is affiliated with Tennessee Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

“The Fellowship community grieves with the members of Cedar Grove Baptist Church in Maryville, Tenn., following last Sunday's tragic accident that claimed two precious lives and injured many others,” Terry Maples, CBF field coordinator in Tennessee, said in a statement. “Our prayers are with all the families touched by this tragedy, the congregation, the youth ministry and the pastor Bob Lynch as he ministers and provides comfort. May God provide strength, comfort and healing during these difficult days.”