NEW PORT RICHEY (FBW)-It was 10:15 Saturday night, and Brad Smith was still talking to students from First Baptist Church of New Port Richey about the terrible tragedy that had claimed the lives of two youth workers involved in an accident on the way to a winter church camp in Covington, Ga.
Earlier in the day, Smith, the student minister at First Baptist, and his wife had made the trip from New Port Richey to Gainesville to meet with two students who remained hospitalized following the wreck of a church van on I-75 near Lake City Friday morning. The accident occurred when the vehicle’s left rear tire blew, causing the van to roll several times.
Driver Jeff Novak, 52, and Michalanne Salliotte, 44, died at the scene, and the seven other people in the van sustained various injuries. By Saturday night, everyone but Jacob Newman, 14, had been released from area hospitals. He was still in intensive care with broken bones and internal bleeding, according to Smith.
As midnight Saturday approached, Smith’s only conversation that remained unfinished for the day was an interview with the Florida Baptist Witness, where he gave exclusive details about what happened in the minutes following the accident and how Baptists from around the state and beyond have shown their gestures of support.
Even after that conversation, Smith was still left trying to put the finishing touches on what he would say to students coming to worship Sunday at First Baptist Church of New Port Richey.
“In each service there will be something special by way of song that will take place,” Smith said. “There will also be a time of prayer. When it comes to the students’ Sunday School hour, I’m still kind of putting that together. It will involve us diving into scripture and praying and loving each other.
“When people are going through hard times, they don’t want to hear Christian cliches. And, while i know personally the Bible says all things work together for good, right now it’s really hard for our leaders, our church body. One of the things I know (Jeff Novak and Michalanne Salliotte) would both want is that God would get the glory and that people would be saved.”
Novak, a father of four, had been doing student ministry at First Baptist Church of New Port Richey for about 7 years, Smith said.
“Jeff loved Jesus, and he loved young people. And he loved telling people about Jesus,” Smith said. “He was a guy I could always count on. It didn’t matter what the event was: a big one, small one, Jeff was always there. He loved driving. He was always the first one to volunteer.”
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