A Tennessee man who crashed his vehicle into a rural St. Francis County church during a police pursuit last week faces a murder charge in the death of his passenger.
Jacob Bowman, 23, of Kingsport, Tenn., was charged with first-degree murder Wednesday after Lois Meade, 22, of Kingsport died from injuries she suffered on Tuesday, when Bowman crashed into Riverside Baptist Church on St. Francis County Road 419 north of Widener.
Bowman also faces charges of theft, driving on a suspended driver's license, driving without insurance, reckless driving, fleeing and following too closely. He is being held in the St. Francis County jail in Forrest City, St. Francis County Sheriff Bobby May said.
Arkansas State Police Trooper Steven Roberts attempted to stop a Ford Bronco on Interstate 40 at 8:40 a.m. Tuesday at mile marker 249 near Widener, state police spokesman Bill Sadler said. Roberts reported the license plate of the vehicle to a dispatcher and learned the Bronco was stolen from Dalhart, Texas.
Bowman sped away and headed east on the interstate before taking exit 247 onto St. Francis County Road 419, state police spokesman Liz Chapman said.
The vehicle turned into the Riverside Baptist Church parking lot at the intersection of St. Francis County Road 419 and County Road 416 before crashing into the north side of the church.
The Bronco drove into the building, which was used for storage, Pastor Marlon Brown said, and briefly caught fire. Forrest City Fire Department firefighters put the blaze out, Fire Chief Anthony Renigar said.
Meade was trapped in the wreckage and pronounced dead at the scene, May said.
Bowman was taken to an area hospital and treated for minor injuries before he was arrested.
No one was inside the church at the time of the accident.
Brown said he was called to the church at about 9 a.m. Tuesday. He didn't know a car had plowed into the building, nor did he know someone died.
"They didn't tell me what happened," the pastor said. "I got there and saw all the police and firetrucks and ambulances. I asked, 'What happened?' That's when I learned the woman died."
Brown said Thursday that he intended to convert the section of the building into an education center for children. The church was once a high school complex that was closed for more than 30 years. About 250 have attended services there weekly since the church opened in 2011, he said.
"The saddest part is the loss of life," Brown said. "I'm upset about the damage to the building, but the most important part is someone lost their life.
"It could have been avoided. All they had to do was stop."
Brown said he will incorporate Tuesday's accident into his sermon today.
"We will have services," he said. "That won't stop us from worshipping. With the help from God, we will keep marching on."
State Desk on 09/10/2017
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