GAFFNEY, S.C. (ABP) — A Saturday children's outing turned to tragedy March 19 for a Baptist church in South Carolina when a miniature train at a park derailed, killing the 6-year-old son of its pastor and injuring several others.
Benjamin Easler was killed when a miniature train at Cleveland Park in Spartanburg, S.C., left the track and tipped over while carrying 15 children and adults from Corinth Baptist Church in Gaffney, S.C. His father, Pastor Dwight Easler, was hospitalized two nights with a broken ankle and lacerations on the head that required stitches.
The boy's mother, Tabitha, who is eight months pregnant, was treated for bruises and scrapes at a hospital and kept overnight for observation. Two sons, Matthew and Seth, each broke both arms, and Matthew had facial cuts requiring surgery.
Another child, Bryson Ziegelheafer, was in intensive care at Spartanburg Regional Medical Center with bruises and swelling to the brain. He had surgery to repair a wound on his leg Saturday evening.
Authorities don't know what caused the train, a popular park attraction since 1952, to jump the track, but riders said it seemed to be going a little fast. Park officials said the derailment happened within the first hour of the first day of operation this season.
In all there were about 30 people on board, including three adults and 12 children, ages 6 to 11, from Corinth Baptist Church. Several sustained injuries ranging from scratches and bruises to broken bones and lacerations.
Grief counselors were on hand for a hastily planned Sunday morning worship service at Corinth Baptist Church March 20. Prayers were spoken not only for physical injuries, but also for emotional scars on children and adults who witnessed the tragedy.
Donnie Padgett, director of missions for Broad River Baptist Association, told worshippers that as news of the accident spread many fellow Baptists were remembering them in their prayers.
"I don't think I've ever received as many phone calls as I did yesterday," he said. "I've never seen anything quite like this as far as people hearing the news. I'm not sure how many pastors have called me wanting to know what they can do to help."
Padgett said people often look to clergy for answers during times of tragedy.
"The truth is we don't have answers, not the answers to the kind of questions that you might have," he said. "We know all things work together for good for those who love God, but sometimes in our hearts it just doesn't seem good. We have to work through those things."
Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.