MEMORIAL GARDENS - MAURY COUNTY, TENNESSEE
TURNER, Mackenzie Taylor, 1 Apr 1997 - 28 Jul 2011. (Davidson Co. native with roots in Maury County; d/o Jean Ann Turner and Leroy High; attended Whitthorne Middle School about to start Columbia Central High School, member of Art Club, Reach Club and the Tiger Club, played fast pitch softball,studied piano under Scott Burt throught the Music Federation Club of America, alumni of the Jr. National Congressional Youth Leadership Council.)
Church van flips, killing girl; Eleven others hurt as vehicle rolls off I-40
By RICHARD CONN and CHRISTINE SEIBER
Staff photo by Susan W. Thurman A woman embraces a girl in front of Destiny Church Thursday. Members gathered at the church after a wreck killed a 14-year-old girl and injured 11 others.
The driver of a church van from Columbia that crashed Thursday on the return trip from a youth sleep-over near Memphis, killing a 14-year-old girl and seriously injuring three other passengers, may have fallen asleep at the wheel, authorities said.
The Tennessee Highway Patrol said the youths from Destiny Church had attended an overnight “lock-in” at another church in Munford, where they traditionally stay up all night. Troopers were investigating the possibility that Bobby Joe Sasser, 24, fell asleep while driving the van, a THP spokeswoman said.
Mackenzie Turner, 14, died in the crash, Trooper Bruce Gildersleeve said. A former academic standout at Whitthorne Middle School, Turner was to begin her freshman year at Columbia Central High School on Monday.
Destiny Church Board member Bradd Kimes addressed the media at the church on North Main Street in Columbia.
“We’re sad. ... We just ask that you pray for us and pray for these parents that are dealing with this,” adding, “They are a special group of kids.”
Gildersleeve came to Destiny Church about noon to inform the girl’s mother, Jean Ann Turner, that her daughter had died, said Joyce Holland, a friend and neighbor of the Turner family.
Holland had gone with Jean Ann Turner to the church to meet three vans returning the children from the lock-in. Instead, they found a television news crew waiting, she said.
When Jean Ann Turner learned about the crash, she collapsed and had to be helped inside the church, Holland said.
Twelve people, including the driver, were aboard the van at 9:40 a.m. when it overturned on an off-ramp. It struck a pole at the Rt. 13 exit near Waverly, about 55 miles west of Nashville, according to the THP.
No other vehicles were involved in the crash, Highway Patrol Sgt. Chad Smith said.
The gray van landed on its top, which was crushed. Scattered in the grass were backpacks, water bottles and a first aid kit, among other debris.
Among the injured, 12-year-old Shelby Hopkins, 13-year-old Sebastian Kerr and 15-year-old Sydney Massey were airlifted to Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, according to News Channel 5.
Vanderbilt spokeswoman Ashley Culver said all three were upgraded from critical to stable condition Thursday afternoon.
Massey is a Santa Fe Unit School student and daughter of Mary Beth Monahan and Phillip Massey.
Speaking by phone from the Nashville hospital, Phillip Massey said his daughter suffered a laceration to her head and broken bones and was scheduled to undergo surgery for a broken arm.
“We’re lucky" grateful that her injuries aren’t worse than they are. There’s nothing that won’t heal up,” he said.
Descriptions of the injuries of the other two children taken to Vanderbilt were not immediately available. The rest of the van’s occupants were taken to Three Rivers Hospital in Waverly, a THP spokeswoman said.
Traffic on 1-40 was shut down in both directions late Thursday morning so medical helicopters could land to take the injured to hospitals.
Of the 12 people in the van, only three were wearing seatbelts. Turner, and the three youths who were taken to Vanderbilt University Medical Center were not wearing their seatbelts, a THP spokeswoman said.
About 15 parents and church members congregated at the church in Columbia Thursday morning, expecting to pick up their children.
One church member who asked not to be identified said his nephew had been aboard the van that crashed and was taken with minor injuries to Three Rivers Hospital. His two sons were aboard a separate van that did not crash, he said.
Outside the church, Charity Kimes spoke to a News Channel 5 reporter about the mental condition of the other children who went on the trip.
“They’re very upset right now, but they know the Lord and they’re going to lean on him,” she said.
David Haley, who identified himself as Jean Ann Turner’s fiancé, told the TV station Mackenzie was her only child.
“They had a real special bond,” he said.
At Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital, another large group of parents, friends and church members gathered in the emergency room to await news on the injured children.
“There seem to be a lot of the church folks, pastors ... and church members there,” Massey said. “We’re getting a lot of support from those folks.”
Gov. Bill Haslam, who was in Maury County Thursday to award a state grant to Spring Hill officials, offered his condolences to the community.
“Our hearts go out to all the families, particularly the one that lost the child,” he said.
The non-denominational Destiny Church was founded in 2007 by its current pastor, Steven Morgan. It began holding services in a home and is now located in a storefront-type structure in downtown Columbia. The church’s website says it now serves dozens of families.
This is not the first time this summer the church’s members have had to grieve over the loss of a youth. A teenage member of Destiny Church and another teen were killed in a car accident in Mt. Pleasant June 29.
That wreck at the intersection of First Avenue and U.S. Highway 43 claimed the lives of Sarah Graham, 17, a student at Summertown High School, and Kyle Tate, 16, who attended Mt. Pleasant High School.
Two other teenagers, Paxton Gilbreath and Ronald Harris, were injured in that June 29 crash. Graham, a member of Destiny Church, was driving the car full of teens, which collided with a tractor trailer. A fundraiser for the Graham family was to be held at 4:30 p.m. Friday at the American Legion Building on Nashville Highway.
“It’s a tight group,” church board member Kimes said, standing Thursday in front of Destiny Church. “It’s a church that’s all about supporting this community, and in times of tragedy before the community has supported us.”
Editors Chris Fletcher, Samantha Ballard and the Associated Press contributed to this report.
Story created Jul 29, 2011 - 17:23:20 EDT.