LAWRENCEVILLE - Nearly 100 youth and adults were preparing to serve their community Wednesday. But instead, the church members gathered to mourn the death of one of their young leaders.
On his way to a mission project, Thomas Edward Brown, 17, of Hoschton died in a fiery crash Wednesday on Interstate 85.
Brown was one of three people killed in vehicle collisions in and around Gwinnett on Wednesday, and three others were taken to Gwinnett Medical Center with injuries.
"He was a very special guy," the Rev. Davis Chappell of First United Methodist Church of Lawrenceville said of Brown. "He was a very loving young man. ... The kid did more in 17 years to make a difference than people do in 80."
Brown, who was learning guitar and beginning to play during worship services, was picked to act as a youth leader during this week's project for the Lawrenceville Assistance Program, where teams work to repair roofs, paint houses and meet other needs in affordable-housing communities.
Chappell said the mission has been postponed while counselors and ministers help the children grieve for their friend, who was a junior at Collins Hill High School.
"It was an emotional thing," Chappell said about receiving the news of Brown's death as 60 kids and 30 adults gathered. "We spent a lot of time caring for each other and praying for each other and praying for his family. ... They loved Thomas, but they are very resilient. They feel like what we will do in the future we will dedicate to him."
Brown's family has asked that donations be made in his name to the Lawrenceville Assistance Program or to the church's building fund. A memorial service will be held at the church at 2 p.m. Sunday.
Police said Brown's 1999 Dodge Dakota left the roadway while traveling south on I-85, crossed the grassy median and collided with a 2006 Freightliner tractor-trailer traveling north.
Gwinnett County Fire Department spokesman Lt. Thomas Rutledge said both vehicles caught fire shortly after 5 p.m. as a result of the accident, which occurred just north of Hamilton Mill Road in Buford.
Authorities said Brown was trapped inside the Dodge truck and died at the scene while the driver of the tractor-trailer, identified as 53-year-old Michael Verlon Davis of Rochelle, was taken to Gwinnett Medical Center and was later discharged, said a hospital spokesperson.
Gwinnett police spokesman Cpl. Darren Moloney said it is still unclear why the 17-year-old's truck left the roadway, but the department's accident investigation unit was working to determine the cause. Drugs and alcohol do not appear to be a contributing factor, Moloney said, although test results are pending.
The rush hour wreck shut down both northbound and southbound lanes of the interstate Wednesday for nearly five hours. One southbound lane opened two hours after the incident, but both northbound lanes remained closed until nearly 11 p.m.
Auburn man killed
in Suwanee accident
In another incident, 48-year-old Brandon Morrow of Auburn was killed when the Toyota Corolla he was riding in collided with a Ford Expedition shortly after noon.
Moloney said preliminary investigations indicated the driver of the Toyota, 21-year-old Martin Dean Williams of Loganville, failed to yield to the Expedition as he traveled through the stop-sign-controlled intersection of Crestridge Drive and Crestridge Court.
Morrow was pronounced dead at the scene while Williams and another passenger of the Toyota, 60-year-old Arthur Collins of Lawrenceville, were seriously injured and taken to Gwinnett Medical Center.
"Williams and Collins are expected to survive their injuries," Moloney said.
As of press time Thursday, hospital spokesman Kyle Brogdon said Williams remained at the medical center in fair condition. Collins was released.
According to a police press release, the driver of the Ford SUV, Ivan Basilio Crisan, 44, of Lawrenceville was not injured and required no medical attention.
Moloney said all the drivers and the passengers were wearing seat belts except Morrow.
Drugs and alcohol do not appear to have contributed to the accident, but test results are pending, Moloney said. Misdemeanor charges, Moloney added, are pending against Williams.
Loganville teen killed
in single-car accident
In a neighboring county about 22 miles away, a second teen was killed when her Ford Explorer left the road, overturned and struck a utility pole about 1:30 a.m.
Georgia State Patrol Cpl. Mark Meeler who responded to the accident said Kenna Buice, 18, of Loganville was traveling along Ga. Highway 20 toward Loganville when she wrecked.
"She just seemed to have run off the road. Her vehicle rotated clockwise, began to flip and struck a very large utility pole," Meeler said.
Deputies who notified the family believe Buice was on her way to her Loganville home. She was the only person in the vehicle.
Although officials are unsure what caused Buice's vehicle to leave the road, Meeler said, neither drugs nor alcohol appear to be contributing factors.