Victims in beach trip tragedy being remembered in funeral services; loss has significant impact on Webster County community

ERBACON, W.Va. — The small Webster County community of Erbacon is trying to deal with the tragic loss of five community members following a July 2 interstate crash near Orangeburg, South Carolina, that claimed their lives.

The family was heading to Florida for their annual summer beach vacation when a tire blew on their SUV sending the vehicle across the Interstate 26 median and into the paths of two tractor trailers. Five of the seven people in the SUV died on impact.

Erbacon First Community Church Pastor Carl Griffin is one of the community members who is helping residents deal with the tragedy. He’ll preach the funerals of four of the victims, the first is that of Michael Russell, 67, of Calvin, scheduled for Thursday evening.

“It has made a major, major impact on our little community,” Griffin told MetroNews. “They were scattered all through the mountains but they were kin to everybody and it just has tremendously affected us and the surrounding areas as well because their family branched out to the different communities in this area.”

There was an additional tragedy in connection with the crash, Griffin said.

“The grandparents were behind in a vehicle with more children who saw the whole thing. They didn’t wreck but they saw everything,” he said.

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On Friday, Griffin will also assist in preaching the combined funerals at Webster County High School of A.J. Morris, 37, the Erbacon Volunteer Fire Department chief, his wife Jasmine Morris, 25, and their daughter, Gracie Taylor, 7. There will be full military and fireman honors for Morris.  Michael Russell was Jasmine Morris’ father.

Services for the fifth victim, Justin Cooper, 39, of Calvin, is scheduled for Saturday in the Elkins area.

Michael Russell’s wife Rhonda was driving the SUV and survived the crash along with her brother Jimbob Salisbury. Both were injured, have been released from the hospital and are expected to make full recoveries, Griffin said.

Griffin said he’ll use the time he has at the funerals to point toward faith and hope.

“There are so many whys and ifs and whats and ‘if we wouldn’t of done this or maybe we shouldn’t have done that,’ that’s just answers we don’t have in life,” he said. “Ecclesiastes says there’s a reason for everything under heaven. So just like we can’t control the seasons of earth there are certain situations in our lives that are just beyond our control and that’s where faith steps in and we have to have faith in times like this.”

Griffin also plans to focus on the intersection created by the cross, some fond memories he has of the youngest victim, Gracie, and a flowering rose.

“A rose has thorns but if we concentrate on the thorns we miss the beauty of the flower,” Griffin said.

Morris Funeral Home in Cowen is in charge of arrangements for Thursday and Friday’s services.

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