Truck Hits Harnett County Church
Posted April 7, 2008
Erwin, N.C. — A Harnett County church was condemned Monday after a tractor-trailer went out of control and slammed into the front of the sanctuary and some nearby vehicles.
The truck, driven by Ellis Atkins of Statesville, hit Zion Temple Church of God of Prophecy, at 8216 U.S. Highway 421 South, at about 10 a.m. Monday, authorities said. The wreck demolished the church's front steps, but no one was injured.
"I said, 'Well, thank you Lord,' because ... it could've been another way. It could've been (Sunday), and I'm so glad God is merciful," said the Rev. Jeannette Barnes, pastor of Zion Temple.
Atkins, who was transporting lumber for a Statesville company, suffered a medical condition and passed out while driving, authorities said.
"He stated he had a coughing incident, started coughing real bad, and the next thing he knows, he passed out," said Master Trooper J.B. Harvey, of the state Highway Patrol.
The out-of-control rig then mowed down a tree, flipped over a church van, blasted through the church's brick front steps, ripped off its fuel tank, slammed into a Buick Riviera and limped to a standstill beneath a flowering dogwood tree.
"I just heard something that sounded like thunder, and I thought maybe it was thunder," said Arthur Johnson, whose Buick was smashed during the incident.
The truck came to rest in Johnson's yard, where it leaked about 60 gallons of diesel fuel. Some of the fuel seeped into an unused well.
Atkins regained consciousness only after the truck stopped. He walked away with a few scratches, but declined to comment.
He was charged with reckless driving.
Zion Temple was condemned after an inspector deemed the building unsafe to enter. Barnes said the 35-member church would repair the building.
"We're blessed to be here today, standing and being alive. We're blessed," she said.