SHREVEPORT, La. — A Baptist church’s youth minister is recovering at home from injuries he received July 12 when the bus carrying his youth group to a Georgia camp rolled over on a Mississippi interstate highway, injuring 23 passengers -- one fatally. Meanwhile, another passenger remained in critical condition.
Jason Matlack, minister of youth at First Baptist Church in Shreveport, La., was released July 18 from Rush Foundation Hospital in Meridian, Miss. He continues to recuperate at his home, where he and his wife, Sarah, are accepting visitors on a limited basis.
Matlack fractured a vertebra and had artery injuries that caused serious loss of blood. His pastor, Greg Hunt, said it took doctors a while to figure out why he was losing so much blood and to get him stabilized.
Maggie Lee Henson, a seventh grader at First Baptist Church School, remained in critical condition more than a week after the accident, suffering from severe head injuries. Her father, John Henson, is associate pastor for emerging ministries at First Baptist Church.
She has gained some stability, but as of July 20 doctors continued to be concerned about fluctuations in her intracranial pressure, a critical benchmark in treatment and recovery from brain injury.
“She continues to be in a very fragile state of health,” Hunt said. He said it is still “way too early” to be talking about long-term recovery.
“Right now it’s a survival question,” he said.
One youth, Brandon Ugarte, 14, died on the way to the hospital after being ejected from the bus. The accident took place when the vehicle blew a tire and rolled three times in the eastbound lanes of Interstate 20/59 near the Alabama Welcome Center, on the Alabama/Mississippi state line.
Most of the 17 youth and six adults injured in the accident were treated and released the night of the wreck. They were headed toward a camp sponsored by Passport, a ministry partner of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, held on the campus of Mercer University in Macon, Ga.
The church-bus crash could have been worse if a transport bus carrying National Guard soldiers had not come upon the accident scene nearly immediately, Hunt noted.
He described rescue efforts by the Alabama National Guard’s 2101st Transportation Company, Detachment 1, as “amazing.”
The soldiers were traveling right behind the church bus on Interstate 20 near Meridian, Miss., he said. The blowout caused the driver to lose control, and the bus flipped three times before landing on its side.
The guardsmen lifted the bus off the ground to remove two victims trapped underneath, he reported. Unit members trained in triage immediately started treating the most seriously injured until emergency crews arrived.
Support for the affected families and First Baptist Church flooded in from all over the world, Hunt noted. A social networking Facebook site — Praying for First Baptist Church Shreveport and Maggie Lee Henson — had more than 2,700 members as of July 22.
When parents and church members rushed to Mississippi, members of two Meridian congregations — First Baptist Church and Fifteenth Avenue Baptist Church — met them to help sort out where their loved ones had been sent. Emergency personnel took injured victims who were not airlifted to Jackson to three local hospitals in the Meridian area. Luggage and other items recovered from the crash site were taken to Fifteenth Avenue Baptist Church — located in Meridian’s hospital district — where family members could pick them up.
One of the teenagers hurt in the accident, Sarah Smith, went home from the hospital July 15. In the wreck’s aftermath, she had been taken to University Medical Center in Jackson, Miss., with fractures in the neck and upper back.
Two victims were expecting to be transported to Shreveport for more treatment.
Kyle Kelley, an adult sponsor on the trip who works for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Louisiana, hoped to be moved July 20 to an intermediate-care facility. His injuries included broken bones.
Lauren Murchison was scheduled to be taken to a rehabilitation facility in Shreveport. She had surgeries to repair fractures to areas including her femur, clavicle and face.
Bob Allen is senior writer for the Associated Baptist Press.