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First Presbyterian Church picks up the pieces after car crash

Saturday, February 26, 2011 | 3:56 p.m. CST; updated 8:29 p.m. CST, Saturday, February 26, 2011
The driver of a silver Chevy Monte Carlo drove through the front of First Presbyterian Church on Hitt Street Friday. There were about 50 junior and senior high school kids and 10 adults inside the church at the time. No one was injured during the accident, Columbia Police Department spokeswoman Jill Wieneke said.

COLUMBIA — Alex Jones had just finished listening to a youth worship lesson at First Presbyterian Church late Friday night when he heard a loud crash outside the building.

"I look up and I can see police lights," he said. "Our youth group minister goes out to look and the car came back at the window, and then it went right through."

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Jones, 11, was one of 50 junior and senior high school students and 10 adults inside the church when a 21-year-old man drove through the front of the building.

Nathan See, director of youth ministries, had just divided the audience into three groups near the back of the Social Hall when a car rammed into the glass face of the Welcome Center.

"We heard the initial crash into the outer window and it didn't break, but he backed up and he rammed it again," See said. "The second entrance he just plowed through. He kept his foot on the accelerator, which was the scariest thing."

After the first crash, the adults in the group ushered the kids farther back into the room and sent two of the groups up a side stairwell, See said.

The driver of the silver Chevy Monte Carlo drove through the Social Hall, knocking chairs set up for Sunday's service out of the way, until it hit the far back wall, he said.

Although most of the children were sent up the stairwell to the floor above, one group was unable to make it across the room before the car crashed through the window, See said.

"One group witnessed it all," See said.

After the car stopped, Columbia police officers followed through the hole in the entrance on foot. They detained Scott Andrew Robinson, 21, within minutes in connection with the accident.

"When I came back around, one of the police officers didn't know who I was and pulled a gun on me for a split second and I hit the deck," See said. "It was nuts, it was all nuts. There was so much going on that I don't blame him at all."

Jones, who was in one of the groups that made it upstairs, said it was really chaotic and there was a lot of noise.

After the crash, he called his mother, Chrissy Jones, from a friend's cell phone.

"Alex told me that everyone was okay, but I could hear the girls crying in the background, so we got dressed and ran down there," said Chrissy Jones, who is also executive administrative assistant at First Presbyterian Church.

"When we arrived, there were a ton of police there and the street was blocked off," she said. "Parents were beginning to arrive to pick their kids up, but everything was taking awhile because the police were interviewing the kids."

Cleanup started late Friday night and continued into Saturday morning. People swept the broken glass into piles and then vacuumed it up.

In 2009, the church underwent a $4.5 million renovation, including the Social Hall, according to a previous Missourian report.

"The cost of the damages hasn't been determined yet, but the insurance company will be out Monday or Tuesday to assess the situation," Richard Ramsey, senior pastor at the church, said.

The church is also a designated spot for the True/False Film Festival, which will begin next week. The Social Hall will still be used for screening as planned, Ramsey said.

Co-director of True/False, David Wilson, was at the church Saturday morning to see the damage.

"I got a text from the bartender of Ragtag at 10:56 last night," Wilson said. "I thought it was a joke at first. Thankfully no one was hurt, and thankfully there was not any significant structural damage."

This is the first year that True/False has partnered with the church, Wilson said.

The youth at the retreat were from four or five Presbyterian churches in surrounding areas — including Marshall, Moberly, Mexico and Jefferson City — and Columbia.

The youth of First Presbyterian Church were supposed to serve at a Saturday morning breakfast for people in need, most of them homeless. Although the youth were no longer in charge of it, the meal went on as scheduled.

The breakfast rotates among a few downtown churches and is being held weekly at the church through the end of March.

"The Offering," the 9 a.m. Sunday service, normally held in the Social Hall, will be held in the church sanctuary Sunday.

"All the kids are safe and we are so thankful — that's the main thing," See said. "Five minutes before (we broke into groups), and it could have been a different situation. Although it is bad, we do feel blessed in this situation."


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