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Blount Co. church mourns two members killed in a fiery, head-on crash

1:50 PM, Sep 17, 2012   |    comments
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  • Tyler Schaeffer
  • Jeff Trussell
    

Cedar Grove Baptist Church Pastor Bobby Lynch tells 10News that as of 10:30 a.m. there were still five church members in the hospital following a fatal church van crash Sunday.

Pastor Lynch said four of the church members remain at UT Medical Center and one is being treated at East Tennessee Children's Hospital. Lynch said the parents have requested none of the injured church members' names be released at this time.

Lynch said all of the hospitalized members have finished surgeries for injuries including broken bones and facial lacerations.  He expects the victim being treated at Children's Hospital to be released sometime after lunch Monday.

So far, seven injured passengers have been treated and discharged between 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. Sunday.  Of the seven patients released Sunday, six were discharged from UT Medical Center and one was discharged from Children's Hospital.

The crash happened around 9:30 a.m. Sunday on Chapman Highway near the intersection of Zion Hill Church Road in Sevier County. A Chevy Blazer crossed the center line and struck the church van head-on, according to THP Lt. Danny Thomas. The driver of the van and a passenger were killed. The van rolled in to a ditch and caught fire with 13 people inside, including the two victims who were killed.

Tennessee Highway Patrol spokesperson, Dalya Qualls, confirmed to 10News that the fatalities were the driver of the van, 45-year-old Jeff Trussell of Maryville. Courtney Kaliszewski, a 16-year-old from Seymour, also died Sunday at the scene.

Trussell was a member of the congregation for 15 years and was currently serving as Youth Director.

Kaliszewski was a student Seymour High School, where counselers are on hand to talk with students.  Dr. Debra Cline, Assistant Superintendent of Sevier County Schools, issued the following statement: 

"The school family at Seymour High School is deeply saddened by the tragic death of Courteney Kaliszewski on Sunday, September 16, 2012. We extend our sympathy, thoughts, and concern to Courteney's family at this difficult time. Courteney was a gentle, kind, and caring individual whose influence will continue to positively impact our lives. Our care and concern also go out to others involved in the accident."

The condition of the driver of the SUV that crashed into the church van is unknown.  The driver was identified as  21-year-old Tyler Schaeffer.  UT Medical Center spokesperson Susan Wyatt said Schaeffer has issued a "no information" request, meaning the hospital is neither able to comment on his medical condition nor whether he has been discharged.

A white, powdery substance was found in Schaeffer's vehicle, according to THP Sgt. Randall Martin.  Troopers that worked the crash are meeting with the Sevier County District Attorney General's Office on Monday to discuss possible charges against Schaeffer.

Previous Story: Sunday, September 16, 2012
Blount County church mourns two members killed

Members of Cedar Grove Baptist Church in Blount County are mourning the loss of two of their own who were killed in a fiery crash involving a 15-passenger church van and an SUV.

Tennessee Highway Patrol spokesperson, Dalya Qualls, confirmed to 10News that driver of the van, Jeff Trussell, 45, from Maryville and passenger Courtney Kaliszewski, 16, from Seymour, both died Sunday morning at the scene.

The crash happened around 9:30 a.m. on Chapman Highway near the intersection of Zion Hill Church Road in Sevier County.

A Chevy Blazer crossed the center line and struck the church van head-on, according to THP Lt. Danny Thomas. The van rolled in to a ditch and caught fire with 13 people inside, including Trussell and Kaliszewski.

UT Medical Center spokesperson, Susan Wyatt, told 10News 10 injured victims were transported there; all of them are between the ages of 13-22. Schaeffer, along with another passenger in the van were airlifted to UT Medical Center by Lifestar.

THP officials said Tyler Schaeffer, 21, from Seymour was the driver of the Chevy Blazer involved in the accident. The Blount Co. Sheriff's Office released a picture Monday of Schaeffer from an arrest last year. A previous arrest report says he was jailed in February of last year on an aggravated robbery charge. Wyatt confirmed that Schaeffer is a patient at UT Medical Center, but the hospital cannot provide any additional information about his condition.

Maryville resident James Settle drove past the fiery wreck shortly after the accident happened. He called the scene "devastating."

"The first thing that I saw when I pulled up here was a car flipped over in the road and smoke coming out of the top of that van ... and I knew then it was bad," Settle said.

A member of Cedar Grove Baptist Church told 10News that around two-dozen people were returning from a weekend youth retreat in Gatlinburg when the crash happened.

"We did the best we could do, and that's all anybody can do," said Settle, who also tried to help save the two people trapped in the van.

Cedar Grove Baptist Church Pastor Bobby Lynch tells 10News Trussell was a member of the congregation for 15 years; he currently was serving as Youth Director

THP confirms felony charges are now pending against Schaeffer, who was driving the SUV, after narcotics were found on him when he arrived at the hospital.

The church remained open throughout Sunday afternoon allowing members to stop in and pray.

THP's Critical Incident Response team is investigating the crash.

 

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