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Regional & National

1 teen dead, others hurt in Tenn. church van wreck

July 28th, 2011 10:00 pm by Travis Loller

WAVERLY, Tenn. (AP) — A Middle Tennessee church van returning from a youth outing overturned near an Interstate 40 off-ramp Thursday morning about 55 miles west of Nashville, killing a teenage girl and injuring eleven others.

Tennessee Highway Patrol spokeswoman Dalya Qualls said the youths were returning to Columbia after a concert with the Christian band Skyhook in Munford, Tenn. According to the band's website, the group played an overnight "lock-in" event at the River of Life Church there. Troopers were investigating the possibility that the driver, 24-year-old Bobby Joe Sasser, fell asleep.

Highway Patrol Sgt. Chad Smith said the gray passenger van left the interstate and struck a metal light post before coming to a stop on its top, which was crushed in. The van was left in a triangular median of grass between the interstate and the exit ramp for Tenn. 13 near Waverly.

Backpacks, water bottles and a first aid kit were among the debris thrown from the vehicle. Later it was towed away.

Smith said the van belonged to the Destiny Church in Columbia. No other vehicles were involved in the crash, which happened at about 9:40 a.m.

Outside the church in downtown Columbia, trooper Bruce Gildersleeve identified the girl who died as 14-year-old MacKenzie Turner.

"They are a special group of kids," church board member Bradd Kimes said. "We're sad. Really at this point ... we just ask that you pray for us and these parents that are dealing with this."

Smith said there were 12 people, including the driver, aboard when the van ran off the interstate.

Three children — a 15-year-old girl, a 13-year-old boy and an 11-year-old girl — were flown by helicopter to Vanderbilt Children's Hospital in Nashville where they were reported in stable condition Thursday afternoon. Details about their injuries were not disclosed.

The remaining passengers and the driver all were taken to Three Rivers Hospital in Waverly, the closest hospital to the crash site. Hospital administrative assistant Jean Burns said she could not provide information about their conditions.

Highway Patrol spokeswoman Qualls said the passengers taken to Three Rivers ranged in age from 12 to 16 years old.

It was the second fatal wreck in the past month involving a teenager who attends the church. Seventeen-year-old Sarah Graham was killed June 29 in Mount Pleasant, Tenn., in a crash with a tractor-trailer.

"Our hearts go out to all the families, particularly the one that lost the child," Gov. Bill Haslam said.

The 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 serves dozens of families.

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Associated Press writer Lucas L. Johnson II contributed to this from Columbia.

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