6 members of Bronx church killed in crash

September 19, 2010 3:19:00 PM PDT
Church services were held at the Bronx church were six of their congregation members died in a terrible van crash on the New York State Thruway on Saturday.

Through song they tried to find strength, and through prayer they searched for the answers so many desperately need.

"Why did this happen to such a person of God, it makes me ask the question, why?" said one parishioner.

Rev. Dr. Simon White, his wife Zelda, Associate Pastor Titus McGhie and three other members of the Joy Fellowship Congregation were killed when the van they were riding in crashed on the NY State Thruway in Orange County Saturday afternoon.

"He had such an infectious smile, his smile was contagious, when you saw him he was always in good spirits, a loving man," said Jay Gooding, the victim's friend.

14 people were riding in the 1997 Ford, heading to a church event near Schenectady, when police say a rear tire ruptured.

The driver, Bernard Lattibuediere, 52, lost control.

It flipped several times, tossing 9 people from the van, 5 of them died, including Zelda White, who worked with Claire Johnson.

"I can picture her yesterday looking so beautiful, she always dressed up really nice and she was looking forward to that banquet, I can picture her that day," said Claire Johnson, the victim's friend.

The sixth fatal victim, Bishop White was sitting in the front passenger seat.

"Because of him, I am the woman I am today," said Givon Mignott, the victim's friend.

Givon met Rev. White 20 years ago when she first came to New York from Jamaica.

"He married me, buried my mom when she died, so he was a very close friend to us," Mignott said.

The congregation of about 100 is in mourning, but they are not without hope, the small Pentecostal church has been shaken to its core.

"Some questions we will not able to answer, only God understands why," said Pastor Recardo Millwood, of the Joy Fellowship Christian Assemblies.

The dead were identified as:

Bishop Simon White, 55
Zelda White, 52
Pastor Titus McGhie, 66
Avril Murray, 65
Evelyn Ferguson, 65
Elaine Reid, 65

A seventh survivor is "under heavy sedation and it does not look good."

The deacon says he was not aware of any problems with the van or the tire.

Investigators said Lattibuediere and Bishop White, the only two occupants required by law to do so, appear to have been wearing their seat belts.

Bishop White founded the church in 1998 with about 20 members, according to the church's website.

The congregation, made up largely of West Indian immigrants, now has affiliate congregations in Schenectady and elsewhere in the state.

He and Zelda White had eight children, the site said.