Adventist Today News Team, September 16, 2013
Over the weekend a van crash gained national media attention about a Seventh-day Adventist Church group traveling from Fort Lauderdale to a Florida Conference event in Tampa. Three people lost their lives from the accident and 13 were transported by ambulances and helicopter to nearby hospitals. The major television news operations covered the tragic event which stopped traffic on Interstate 75 for about four hours.
A van with 16 people left the Ambassador Seventh-day Adventist Church in Lauderdale Lakes, a suburb northwest of downtown Fort Lauderdale, at 4:15 a.m. Sabbath (September 14), reported the South Florida Sun-Sentinel on Monday, quoting the Florida Highway Patrol. At about 7:30 a.m. the left rear tire blew out and the van spun around and then rolled over several times. This occurred in Lee County near Fort Myers, according to The Christian Post.
A 20-year-old man was ejected and killed immediately. Two other people died later in the hospital from their injuries. Among the critically injured was a two-year-old baby.
"It's a terrible situation for everyone involved," the Sun-Sentinel quoted Pastor Henoc Paulicin. He stated that a total of 40 church members made the trip in several vehicles and they were part of a church plant sponsored by Ambassador called the Maranatha French Mission Group. They intended to join a convocation with more than 1,000 others from throughout the Florida Conference. Ambassador Church is a congregation with 839 members, mostly Caribbean immigrants.
Two of the dead were leaders in young adult ministries, Paulicin told the Sun-Sentinel. The third was 62 years of age and highly respected in the group. "They were very special people to us, and it is hard because they were very well known to the congregation," he stated.
Police investigators are looking into the question of who was wearing a seat belt. Despite legal requirements with fines and constant education by risk management professionals, this continues to be a significant safety problem with church vans.