Minister, Family Of Lafayette Church Killed In Crash
LAFAYETTE, Tenn. - A minister and his family who were helping in tornado recovery efforts died in a car accident in Macon County.
The crash happened Thursday on Highway 52, west of Lafayette.
The Rev. Michael L. Welch, 51, died along with his wife and two of his children when his van was struck in the rear by a tractor trailer.
Welch's church, Lafayette United Methodist Church, was used as a family crisis center on Wednesday after a tornado killed 14 people in the county. Welch and pastors from different churches as well as grief counselors listened to and prayed with storm victims.
Ron Lowery said Welch was the first pastor he called to mobilize assistance in response to the crisis.
"And within an hour, he was already out doing things," said Lowery, a fellow Methodist. "Helped organize efforts here. Just a tremendous kind of person."
Church trustee Rex Whitecotton, Jr., said Wednesday night Welch counseled people and coordinated getting supplies such as generators and food.
Welch served at the church since 2004.
"He was not only our pastor, he was our friend," said a church member.
Welch's wife, Julie, his 11-year-old daughter, Hannah, and his 14-year-old son, Jesse, also died in the crash. An older son, Garrison Welch, lives in St. Louis.
Traffic was stopped on the road when the tractor-trailer didn't stop and pushed Welch's family's van into the car in front of them.
Four other vehicles, including a second tractor-trailer, were involved in the wreck. Four other people were injured.
According to the Tennessee Highway Patrol, the family was wearing seat belts.
"The ministry of the church as a staging area (for disaster relief) will continue right on," said Bishop Richard Wills of the Tennessee Conference of the United Methodist Church. "In the meantime we will focus on the healing that needs to go on as the members grieve for their pastor."
"We are so fortunate that we were lucky enough to have a pastor like him for four years," said a church member.
(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)