TULLAHOMA, Tenn. — A 28-year-old man accepted Christ in jail after causing a tragedy that had left a pastor feeling responsible for the death of a church deacon.
Tim McGehee, pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Tullahoma, Tenn., and first vice president of the Tennessee Baptist Convention, was returning home from a hospital visit April 28 when he noticed a car speeding up behind him on a rural road. The car struck him at nearly 100 miles an hour, spun him around and into a man who had been directing a delivery truck at his driveway.
Bobby Brown, a 69-year-old deacon at Longview Baptist Church in nearby Unionville, had walked out to his yard to direct the delivery truck. McGehee was youth pastor at Longview 20 years ago, and Grace Baptist recently had ordained one of its members, Jonathan Osterhaus, to serve as pastor of Longview.
“I just was laying there on the grass waiting for another ambulance when Jonathan got there,” McGehee recounted. “He said, ‘Are you OK?’ and I said, ‘How’d you get here?’ and he said somebody had called him. I said, ‘Did they tell you I was in a wreck?’
“And he said, ‘Yeah. Bro. Tim, I’m going to go with Bobby to the hospital.’ I said, ‘Bobby? Bobby who?’ He said, ‘Bobby Brown. That’s who you hit.’ I said, ‘Oh, no!’ and I just started crying because I had known Bobby for 20 years. He was the treasurer, Sunday School director and a deacon at Longview Baptist Church, and I performed his son’s wedding.”
McGehee was transported to a hospital, where he learned that Brown had died en route.
Someone who witnessed the accident followed the racing driver Kimery Hill to his sister’s house and notified police of his whereabouts. He was charged with one count of vehicular homicide, five counts of reckless endangerment and one count of second offense driving on a suspended license, the local newspaper reported. McGehee said he was told Hill had alcohol, marijuana and methamphetamine in his system when he was arrested.
“The very next day after this happened, I was in my bedroom weeping and my wife came back there and she said, ‘Are you OK?’ and I said, ‘I can’t believe I killed somebody,’“ McGehee told BP. “She said, ‘You didn’t kill anybody.’ And I said, ‘I did,’ and she said, ‘No. You had no control. You got hit at that speed, and your truck was out of control.’ And I said, ‘I’ll never be able to go on. I won’t be able to forgive myself.’ But then I started thinking she was right. It wasn’t me. It was the other guy, and I needed to start praying for him that God could bring good out of this.”
The next Sunday, McGehee preached about the need to forgive Hill and to pray for God to bring good from the tragedy. The members of Grace Baptist also started praying for Hill, and Osterhaus went to visit him in jail. On the second visit, the pastor of Longview Baptist led Hill and another inmate to accept forgiveness and salvation in Jesus.
Hill wanted to be baptized, and a jail official was willing to make arrangements for the two inmates to go to Longview Baptist for a baptism ceremony.
“On July 9, two of the deputies brought him and this other prisoner to Longview Baptist Church — the very place where I used to be the youth minister and the very place where Bobby Brown was a patriarch, a pillar of the church — and Jonathan Osterhaus, the new preacher, baptized the prisoners at 2 o’clock on a Wednesday afternoon to a church almost full of people. It was amazing. It was truly unbelievable.”
Shackles were put back on the prisoners’ ankles and wrists when they left the water, and they sat on the front row with two deputies. After the ceremony, McGehee approached Hill for the first time.
“I went up to him and I knelt down on one knee, and I said, ‘I’m Tim McGehee, the guy you hit.’ And he started crying and I started crying, and he mouthed, ‘I’m sorry.’ And I said, ‘I know you are. I forgive you, but God has used this for good.’ Then we also have on video Bobby Brown’s wife hugging this guy and telling him she forgives him. It was just amazing.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Roach is a staff writer for BP.)