A horrific crash left six members of a Bronx church dead—including the pastor and his wife—and eight injured yesterday after their van blew a tire and flipped repeatedly on the Thruway in Orange County, state troopers said.
Pastor Simon White
The tragic wreck decimated the Joy Fellowship Christian Assembly and left congregants, dozens of whom gathered at the Bronxwood church last night, in mourning.
“This will have a severe impact on the community,” said one solemn parishioner at the church on East Gun Hill Road. “It’s just devastating.”
The church was led by Bishop Simon White and his wife, Zelda, also a minister, whose distraught family comforted each other at Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla after hearing the news.
“They were well loved,” Zelda’s sobbing sister, Verine Stewart, told The Post as she comforted a relative who had to be placed in a wheelchair after learning of the deaths. Zelda’s daughter, Charlene Mandrie, was in critical condition at Westchester Medical, where two other victims were hospitalized.
White, who preached around the world, had eight children and ran three churches in the area. The church’s associate pastor, Titus McGhie, and congregants Avril Murray, Evelyn Ferguson and Elaine Reid also died.
“Pastor McGhie would always reach out and talk to you,” said Avriel Kelly, 40, while mourning at the church last night. She described White as, “a father figure. He was a teacher, a confidant. He always had words of wisdom.”
The 14 church members were traveling to an anniversary banquet for a sister church, First Light Christian Assembly, at the Water’s Edge Inn near Schenectady, when the left rear tire blew out near Newburgh at about 3 p.m.
The driver lost control of the 1997 Ford van, which drifted into a rumble strip and then flipped over the grass median.
“We watched this van flip over about seven times going about 80 mph,” wrote Heather Benson on her Facebook page. “It was so frightening.”
The impact flung passengers from the van, which came to rest upside down. Victims were strewn across the roadway, some as far as 20 feet from the vehicle. The driver, Bernard Lattibuediere, survived and was being interviewed, cops said, but he was not expected to be charged. One of the critically injured, Miriam Edwards, was airlifted to Jacobi Hospital in The Bronx.
Edwards suffered severe head trauma and may lose one of her legs, her sister, Juliet Torres, said last night. “She has a strong spirit and through the grace of God, he’ll see her through this,” Torres said.
Three other victims were rushed to Good Samaritan Hospital in Suffern. One was in critical condition. Patrick Richards said his wife, Judith, who suffered a dislocated hip in the smashup, decided to attend the function at the last minute. “She got excited about going. I could’ve lost my wife just like that,” he said outside Good Samaritan Hospital. “It’s a close-knit, small church. Everyone there is pretty tight.”