By Brian Koonce
HANNIBAL – Fourteen Hannibal-LaGrange College (HLG) students have been released from hospitals in Miami and St. Louis after they were involved in a truck accident while serving on a mission trip in Haiti.
Chris Brennemann, assistant professor of communication who was acting as the trip’s faculty sponsor, remains hospitalized in Miami with a “serious head injury.”
“The doctors are pleased with her progress,” said Rhonda Hufty, HLG’s director of public relations. “She is alert and is responding well and they’re hoping to move on to her other injuries. It’s going to a long process, but things are progressing well. Continued prayer is coveted by the family.”
The team was one day away from completing its mission trip to Carries, Haiti, when the accident occurred May 16. The brakes and engine of the large side-paneled truck they and 15 Haitians were riding in failed as it was going down a mountain outside Port-au-Prince. The driver turned the truck into the mountainside in an attempt to stop before an upcoming cliff. The truck came to a stop 10 feet from the edge, but the contact with the side of the mountain threw several people out of the truck and tossed others around inside the bed.
“The eyewitnesses that we’ve spoken with shared the same opinion, that had he not chosen to turn the truck into the mountain, they would have surely gone over the edge,” Hufty said.
All the passengers were injured in the accident, some with cuts, bruises and “road rash,” while others sustained more serious injuries including broken bones, broken ribs, neck injuries and head concussions. Those students who were slightly injured began assessing the situation and medical conditions of the team and the Haitian passengers.
One nursing student who graduated from HLG just days before immediately bandaged his own head, then turned to treating and triaging the other injured passengers.
The team was only a few miles from the Port-au-Prince airport where a University of Miami medical team was stationed. The medical team airlifted four students and Brennemann to Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami. The remaining 10 students were treated and boarded their original return flight back to the United States. They arrived May 18 in St. Louis, and were immediately transported to a St. Louis hospital for further tests, x-rays, CT scans and evaluations. Nine students were treated and released while one student was admitted for further testing and observation. The injured Haitians were treated in Port-au-Prince.
This trip was originally scheduled for early March during the college’s spring break week. However, due to the devastating earthquake in Haiti earlier this year, the team was unable to travel to the country at that time, so the trip was rescheduled for May 10-17. The purpose of the eight-day trip was to help in earthquake disaster relief efforts as well as to work with an orphanage and school in Carries. The college has been sending teams to Haiti for the past four years to work with missionaries living in Haiti.
Hufty said though the incident has been a blow to the school, it will not sour HLG’s emphasis on missions.
“Even those students on the trip voiced their desire to return,” she said. “Accidents happen and we should never confuse the facts of life with God’s will. We believe that God’s hand was all over this incident, placing students in the position to use their knowledge with service.”