What we know about the victims in the church van crash in Dinwiddie

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DINWIDDIE COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — Four members of the Shiloh Baptist Church in Blackstone died on Tuesday after a truck rear-ended the van they were traveling in, causing it to overturn several times.

The church’s van was turning into the parking lot of the Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Dinwiddie for an event when it was struck from behind by the truck, which was pulling a trailer loaded with metal. 

There were 11 church members in the van at the time of the crash. Four died at the scene, three were flown to VCU Medical Center with critical injuries and four others were taken to local hospitals with serious injuries, state police said. 

The truck driver, 47-year-old Robert Lee Allen, was taken to the hospital with minor injuries. According to Virginia State Police, charges are pending. 

All the victims in the crash were Blackstone residents: 36-year-old Wartena Somerville, 85-year-old Constance Wynn, 87-year-old James Farley and 72-year-old Delois Williams. 

Wartena Somerville

Wartena Somerville taught first-grade at Crewe Primary School in Nottoway County. 8News spoke with her husband, Michael Somerville, at the scene on Tuesday night. He told 8News the two were married for three years and have a 9-month-old baby together.
Somerville said he was “in disbelief” after the sudden loss of his wife. 

“In disbelief right now, in disbelief, but I know the Lord, and she knew the Lord, and we know that God knows best, and we can do all things through Christ, who strengthens us. And we just continue to pray for the families who lost loved ones,” he told 8News at the scene. 

Constance Wynn 

Constance Wynn’s friend Alvin Fowlkes told 8News on Wednesday that he’s known Wynn is his entire life and went to school with her grandson. He said the 85-year-old was a force of nature and a woman with a radiant personality. 

Fowlkes said Wynn was very active in the community and was always asked to be a part of events and celebrations because of her liveliness and confidence.

Blackstone Mayor Billy Coleburn told 8News that Wynn was a good friend and that she was one of the first African-American women to serve on the Blackstone Town Council. She served for over 20 years on the council. “Her loss is going to be felt for years to come,” Fowlkes told 8News. “She literally was a pillar of the community and to be a part of Blackstone, was to know her.” 

James Farley

Two leaders at Shiloh Baptist Church remembered James Farley, 87, as a ‘do-it-all type of guy’: A singer in the choir, an usher, ‘grand’ cook and former bus driver who had been with the church for multiple decades.

“Anything around here that he could do, he would do it,” Barbara Thompson, a Shiloh Church trustee, said. “He was a kind man. Very lovable, not likable. Everyone loved him.

“We’re certainly gonna miss him a lot.”

The church’s financial secretary, Dorothy Backley, Shiloh financial secretary, added, “he was more like a grandfather to everyone at the church. He was just adorable.” 

Delois Williams 

Delois Williams, 72, was a member of the Shiloh Baptist Church in Blackstone and a local beautician before retiring a few years ago. She was a loving wife, mother and grandmother who ‘loved her clients and her families,’ according to a close friend. 

“She was the sweetest and very mild-mannered woman,” Latisha Folks said of Williams. “She was one of my first examples of a successful black, woman entrepreneur in the Blackstone community. She cared for her clients beyond just the shampoo and a style.

“When she was called deeper into ministry in the church, she didn’t hesitate to take up her banner for God and share the good news, whether in her chair or in church. She was a quiet force that moved mountains with encouraging words.” 

Click here for more videos on the deadly van crash in Dinwiddie. 

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