A church van affiliated with the First Baptist Church of New Port Richey, FL, crashed on Friday morning on its way to a youth camp in Georgia, killing two people and critically injuring a teenager. The crash was reported at 8:18 am, near exit 90.
The 2000 Ford van was northbound on route I-75 in Lake City, FL when it blew a tire, which sent the van to the shoulder of the highway where it began to flip over, according to a Florida Highway Patrol report
"Several occupants were ejected," the report states.
Jeff Novak, 52, the driver of the van, was pronounced dead at the scene, as was Michalanne Salliotte, 44, both from North Port Richey.
— Melissa-10News (@10NewsMel) February 21, 2014
Shawn Moore, who rents a house from Salliotte in Holiday, FL, described her as sweet and accommodating. "She was the kind of person you just wish everybody was," he said.
One other adult and seven children were also in the van, three of the teenagers were taken to nearby Lake City Medical Center with minor injuries, and Jacob Newman, also of New Port Richey, suffered critical injuries and was rushed to a local hospital in Gainesville.
The other teens in the van were Jared Gress, 14; Eric Paules, 12; Jared Leach, 14; Javen Andrews, 13; Oliver Newman, 12; and Corinn Salliotte, 16.
Eric Paules was the only person in the van wearing a seat belt, the FHP report says.
— ngio64 (@ngio64) February 21, 2014
The Associate Pastor for the First Baptist church, Ed Gilman, spoke to reporters Friday afternoon at the church's Trouble Creek Road campus.
He read a statement that said, "The family and staff at First Baptist Church of New Port Richey is sad to report the loss of two of our dearly loved members in a traffic crash this morning. A group of our teens were traveling to Georgia for a youth retreat when one of the vehicles left the roadway and crashed. We are still praying for the recovery of a few of the teens who were also injured in the crash and are being treated in hospitals in north Florida. We ask that you respect the privacy of the family involved and continue to pray for healing."
He also indicated that the church may hold a prayer vigil today. They will be honoring the crash victims during Sunday services.
A nearby youth pastor from Living Word Church, Joseph Flynn, said he heard about the crash and drove to First Baptist to offer support.
"I stopped doing what I was doing to pray and do some early mourning. I came here to pray," he said.
The First Baptist Church of New Port Richey has approximately 900 members
Image via NDN