Mo. youth group safe after bus wreck

The minister of students and recreation at First Baptist Church of St. Charles, Mo., his wife and a bus driver continue to recover from injuries sustained in a recent single-vehicle accident in Georgia.

By Bob Allen

Quick thinking by a church bus driver is credited with saving lives in a July 17 crash at a youth camp in Georgia.

Seventeen people were injured when a bus carrying the First Baptist Church of St. Charles, Mo., youth group crashed on a steep, foggy, rain-slickened road in Murray County, Ga.

The accident happened about 11:30 p.m. on Cochise Trail, a private road on the grounds of the Global Youth Ministry Camp atop Fort Mountain in northwest Georgia, when the bus missed a turn, left the road and crashed into a tree.

Twenty-four passengers were on board. Most of the injuries were minor cuts, scrapes and bruises. One teenager was taken to Children’s Hospital in Chattanooga, Tenn., where he was treated overnight for a concussion and a lacerated liver.

Bus driver Rusty Martin hit the steering wheel and suffered internal bleeding and fractured ribs. Dan Eubanks, minister of students and recreation, was ejected through the front windshield and went down an embankment. He suffered broken vertebrae, facial injuries and an arm laceration. His wife, Debbie, suffered a broken leg when she fell into the bus stairwell.

st charles busBrad Newbold, minister of music and media at the Southern Baptist congregation in suburban St. Louis, said the youth rode to a worship service Wednesday night so they wouldn’t have to walk terrace steps uphill in heavy rain. After a fellowship time, the group re-boarded the bus for the short return trip down the hill.

“The hill is very steep and the asphalt pavement had been resealed this summer, just like our church parking lot is,” Newbold said in a report to the church July 21. “If you can imagine that sealed surface, very steep, very rainy, the bus just hydroplaned.”

“As you go down the hill, the hill breaks into a turn,” Newbold continued. “And as Rusty was driving down the hill, he said, ‘Oh, no, this is going to be bad.’”

Newbold said Martin pumped the brakes, trying to slow down and maintain steering. As the vehicle continued moving down the hill, he realized he wasn’t going to be able to keep it on the road.

“He told me: ‘I made a decision. I’ve got to hit that tree, and … this is really going to leave a mark.’”

Had the bus not hit the tree, Newbold said the bus would have gone nose first down 60 or 70 feet to a roadbed below.

“For Rusty to make the decision to hit the tree was a decision to save lives, without a doubt, and in my opinion he’s a hero,” Newbold said. “Like the pastor said this morning, we’d be planning funerals instead of celebrating life.”

The church sent a second bus and a team of four adults to Georgia to bring home all but the three adults two days after the accident. Martin was released from the hospital July 22 and returned home able to attend worship by Sunday, July 28.

Both Dan and Debbie Eubanks underwent surgery. They returned home Wednesday on a medical flight by Wings of Hope, a humanitarian organization started by four St. Louis businessmen in 1962.

-- With reporting by Word&Way.