Death of Rev. Donald and son Joel Adams:
Minister, son killed in accident. The pastor of First Baptist Church in Andersonville and his 8-year old son died Thursday afternoon after being struck by a vehicle on Highway 61 near the Andersonville Post Office.
The Rev Donald Adams, 32, and Joel Adams, the oldest of Adams’ three children, were riding their bicycles when the accident occurred, according to the Anderson County Emergency Medical Service and Tennessee Highway Patrolman Johnny Whitson.
According to Whitson, the two were struck by a 1989 Ford Econoline Van driven by 56-year old Lyal E. Salyer, also of Andersonville. Whitson said Adams and his son were knocked an estimated 130 feet after being hit by the right front side of the van.
There is no evidence at this time to indicate that Salyer ever left the roadway when he struck the victims, Whitson said. The term “roadway,” he said includes the entire paved portion of the road and the shoulder.
Whitson said he does not anticipate charges being brought against Salyer at this time.
ACEMS Dispatcher Capt. Gordon Disney was on duty at the time. He said that when the call first came in, the caller told him she understood there had been a bicycle accident.
“Our assessment of the accident quickly changed when the first paramedic team arrived on the scene and realized what they actually”, he said.
Disney said he called the Anderson County Sheriff’s Department to inform them of the accident. He said the ACSD told them that the THP already had a trooper on the way.
Disney said he then dispatched a second EMS unit to assist the first crew. Unfortunately, Adams was pronounced dead at the scene, according to an ACEMS report on the accident.
His body was transported to the morgue at the Methodist Medical Center in Oak Ridge.
Disney said that while the second paramedic team turned its attention to trying to keep Joel, who suffered from chest injuries, alive, the first EMS team went back to Anderson County High School. There they set up a landing zone to receive a helicopter from Lifestar, he said.
Arriving at the LZ shortly thereafter, the second EMA unit put Joel aboard the chopper, along with Anderson County EMT/Paramedic Kenny Powell, Disney said. Powell was asked to assist the Lifestar crew in trying to keep the boy alive, in hopes of getting him to the University of Tennessee Medical Center in time to save his life.
He did not make it. An ACEMS report states that Joel was pronounced dead on arrival at the medical center.
During his initial investigation, Whitson said Salyer, who has a handicap permit for his vehicle, told him that he was a diabetic and had recently left a local hospital after being admitted for chest pains and dizziness. He said Salyer also told him that he was legally blind, and unclear about what happened.
According to Lieutenant Vona Lassiter, issuance manager for the State Department of Safety Division of Drivers License Issuance, Tennessee considers a person legally blind if they have 20/200 vision.
Puzzled as to why the man was still driving, Whitson said he called in for a drivers’ check on Salyer.
Salyer’s license came back as valid, the trooper said.
Whitson was asked if someone should have notified the Department of Safety about Salyer’s medical and physical condition.
He said he knows that some states do require doctors to notify them when a person’s driving ability can be impaired. However, he did not believe that Tennessee was among them.
LT. Lassiter said that to the best of her knowledge it did not. It does, she said, have a driver improvement form that physicians, police officers and others can fill out, requesting that a driver be retested.
“Had the state had such a law, it certainly would have been helpful in this case if we had been notified.” she said.
Apparently, Department of Public Safety Commissioner Robert Lawson agrees. It has been reported by The Knoxville News-Sentinel that Lawson will be looking into the facts surrounding the accident, with the intention of getting a state law established for retesting a driver’s vision each time his license is renewed.
Whitson said he has turned in a driver improvement form requesting that Salyer retake the sight examination portion of the drivers test.
“I intend to follow through with that, and to also talk with Mr. Salyer’s doctor.” he said. “It’s just going to take some time.”
Were Salyer’s medical and physical condition a factor in the accident? Whitson said he will not make that determination until he has met with the Anderson County District Attorney’s Office.
Whitson also said that Salyer voluntarily submitted to a blood-alcohol and drug test, but neither were a factor in the accident.
The disbelief and numbing shock that immediately followed news of Adams’ and Joel’s deaths has slowly started to fade, but members of the Andersonville and Fairview communities say it will be a long time before their lives return to normal.
Adams, a graduate of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, had been pastor of First Baptist since December 1988. During that time he was active with the local ministerial association, and also served as Sunday School Council Director for the Clinton Baptist Association and president of the PTA.
A popular pastor, Adams was especially known for love of children and his work with church youths. He spent much of his free time officiating as and coaching little league basketball and soccer.
Friends remember Adams as a selfless man who was devoted to his family and always had time to visit with a sick child. In the aftermath of the tragedy, they were quick to share thoughts about Adams and Joel.
Pattie Ragsdale, principal of Fairview elementary school, where Joel attended third grade, remember him as a little boy who always had a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eyes.
“Joel was well-liked by all the students in his class and by all his teachers,” Ragsdale said.
“He was a very bright, friendly child. Joel was good in all subjects and was on our A-B Honor Roll.”
Ragsdale said the day after Joel’s death was especially difficult for the students and faculty.
“We’re just going to make it through today and take it one day at a time.”
“Joel loved the Atlanta Braves,” Ragsdale said almost as a after-thought. “We’re going to miss him very much.”
Ironically it was an Atlanta Braves play-off game that was to be Adams’ last trip with his son. The pair had just returned last Saturday from a special father-son outing to see the team that meant so much to Joel.
Tammy Mellon, a member of Adam’s congregation, said the trip was just one of the many activities Adams’ took with his family. She added that God and his wife and children were the top priorities in Adams’ life.
“Don was a special person. It was amazing how much he loved his family,” Mellon said. “He wanted to be a full-time father, a coach, everything. He had such a father’s heart.”
“He and Joel were not only father and son, they were buddies,” Mellon added.
Elizabeth Thacker, a family friend said Adams was much more mature than his 32 years. He was a wonderful pastor who worked well with all ages in the congregation, especially the children, she added.
“He was absolutely fantastic with the young people. He will be so missed because of that,” Thacker said.
First Baptist Deacon Jim Ed Wallace concurred with Thacker’s opinion.
“You could stop at any store or fire hall in the area and they would know who Don was,” Wallace said in a quiet voice. “It wasn’t just church members who knew him, but everyone in the area. That’s because he made himself available to church groups the PTA, youth organizations, everyone.”
“Don was involved. He had the ability to include them and get them involved. Our church has grown so much because of that.”
Adams had also worked hard to establish relationships with his fellow clergy and had become well-respected by them.
“Don was very cooperative in working with our congregation,” said Debra Watson, minister of Andersonville United Methodist Church. “We had worked on a lot of good events together and were looking forward to working on a Thanksgiving program.”
“He was a remarkable person, well-liked by the young people and older as well,” added Hugh Wallace, a member of Adams’ congregation.
Wallace said he felt Adams was an exceptional pastor who led the church admirably.
“Since he’s been pastor, overall, I’d say more progress has been made than anytime probably in the history of the church.”
“It’s a bad thing. I don’t know the reason why. I don’t know that anybody does,” said Wallace.
Adams leaves his wife Suzanne, and two children, Jonathan, 5, and Lindsey, 4.
Clinton Courier News, 17/18 October 1993
[Courtesy of Brenda Foster]