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Support pours in for Blount County church after fatal crash | Community Spirit

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Support pours in for Blount County church after fatal crash
Support pours in for Blount County church after fatal crash

Some members of Cedar Grove Baptist Church spent Thursday afternoon writing thank-you notes.

They've had to order new cards in the past few weeks simply to keep up with their responses to the dozens of cards, condolence letters and donations they've received recently.

"That's one of the things that has helped us - so many people are thinking about Cedar Grove Baptist Church now who didn't even know where we were before," Pastor Bob Lynch said.

Nearly three weeks ago, on the morning of Sept. 16, a church van carrying 12 members back from a youth retreat in Gatlinburg was struck head-on. It flipped and caught fire, killing 45-year-old Jeff Trussell and 16-year-old Courteney Kaliszewski, and injuring several more.

"The trauma is still as deep today as it was three weeks ago," Lynch said. "They were going to tell about their experiences on the retreat, they were going to lead in prayer, they were going to read scripture, they were going to share what God had been doing with their lives, but they didn't get to do that."

Even after such a devastating crash, the pastor says the young people have not missed a service, no matter the circumstances, even if it meant parking wheelchairs in the aisle.

The only young person who's been unable to attend is Kelsie Jones, who suffered severe injuries in the crash and is still recovering at the Patricia Neal Rehabilitation Center.

Pastor Lynch said, just before the van left that morning, Kelsie switched seats with Courteney. 

"She's our miracle 'cause where she was sitting in the van was a very precarious place," Lynch said. "She could have easily been lost. It's just a miracle that she's with us, and we're just grateful for her. We're grateful to God for watching out for her, giving her back to us."

Pastor Lynch said more than 150 churches from across the country have sent cards, donations and condolence letters.

Some of that money has gone toward a fund to replace the church van from the crash. It's up to nearly $9,000, but the pastor says it's unlikely the church will purchase the same type of van because of the memories associated with it.

Meanwhile, he tells 10News that the mother and stepfather of 21-year-old Tyler Schaeffer, who authorities say crossed the center line and struck the church van, have reached out to him to offer their condolences.

Schaeffer was in stable condition at UT Medical Center at last check, according to THP officials.

"We hope that he lives, but we also hope that, because of his bad choices, that he will have to pay some for what he did," the pastor said.

In the meantime, the church family is continuing to heal, partly with new t-shirts, bearing the names of Courteney and Jeff along with the words, 'Be strong," which Jeff Trussell often said to church members.

"We are healing, the church is healing, the people are healing," Pastor Lynch said. "Does that mean we are well? No, not by any means and won't be for a while. But I do think we are doing what we need to do to be well eventually."

If you would like to contribute to the church or offer condolences, you may contact the church in a number of ways:

Cedar Grove Baptist Church
5302 Nails Creek Road
Maryville, TN  37804

(865) 983-0270



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