Four people died and several others were hurt Tuesday when their church van was rear-ended by a truck pulling a load of metal in central Virginia, officials said.
The crash happened before 7 p.m. on Route 460 near Zion Road in Wilsons, about 20 miles west of Petersburg. The van’s occupants were from Shiloh Baptist Church in Blackstone, according to a church deacon whose wife died in the crash.
Those killed in the crash were James Farley, 87; Delois Williams, 72; Constance Wynn, 85; and Wartena Somerville, 36, all of Blackstone.
The van was heading to a revival at another church about 20 miles away in Dinwiddie County. Its occupants were choir members, deacons and ushers from Shiloh, according to the church’s pastor, Benjamin Brown Jr.
Brown went to the scene after receiving a call from authorities.
“I’m shocked,” he said Wednesday as he visited survivors and family members. “It’s hard to believe. We’re hurting.”
Brown said the church, which is more than 100 years old, is in a close-knit community. Generations of families have worshiped at Shiloh, he said.
“We have our faith to lean on and help us through this,” he said.
Virginia State Police said 11 people, including the driver, were in the van. Four died at the scene, three were flown to Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center in Richmond with life-threatening injuries, and the remaining four were taken to other hospitals with serious injuries, according to police.
VCU Medical Center spokesman Pat Kane said Wednesday that the three patients taken there were women and that “all three were expected to survive.” He said one patient was later transferred from another hospital to VCU but had no details on that person’s condition.
A man driving the truck that struck the church van was taken to a hospital with minor injuries, police said.
Investigators said the westbound van had slowed to make a right turn into a church parking lot when a Ford F-450 pickup pulling a trailer loaded with metal “failed to stop in time and rear-ended the van.” The van overturned several times and landed on its side, and the truck went off the road and struck a guardrail, according to police.
Police said charges are pending, and the crash remains under investigation.
Sgt. Keeli L. Hill, a spokeswoman with Virginia State Police, said the van was equipped with seat belts, but it is unclear who may have been wearing them at the time of the crash. Firefighters and paramedics said they think most may not have been wearing seat belts, but there are conflicting reports, Hill said.
Shiloh deacon Michael Somerville said he last saw his wife, Wartena, before 6 p.m. Tuesday at their home when she told him she wanted to go on a church outing in his place and sing in the choir. Michael Somerville was supposed to drive the Shiloh church van to the revival.
She went on the trip while he stayed home to watch their 9-month-old daughter, Stephanie.
He learned about the crash in a phone call Tuesday evening from a law enforcement officer.
“I was in shock and disbelief,” said Somerville, 47. “I just can’t believe she’s gone. I just think she’s gone to the store and she’ll be right back.”
Wartena Somerville taught first-grade at Crewe Elementary School in Crewe, Va. Michael Somerville is a maintenance worker for Nottoway County. They met when he was making a repair in her classroom.
“I asked her if she had a boyfriend,” he recalled, and “she said no.”
About a week later, he asked her on a date.
They had been married for about three years and were active members of Shiloh Baptist Church. He said that he has been a member for eight years and that his wife joined about a year ago.
Somerville said his wife was “always a happy person” who loved the Lord and singing gospel music. Just before she left Tuesday evening, Somerville said, his wife hugged and kissed him and the baby.
“She told us she loved us,” he said.
Alice Crites contributed to this report.