It started as a weekend of joy that led to tragedy – and kept getting worse.
Friday evening, Gentry Eddings, a worship leader for Forest Hill Church’s Ballantyne campus, had presided over his sister’s beachside wedding.
By Tuesday morning, his sprawling church family was mourning the deaths of his two small children. The youngest was born when Eddings’ injured wife, Hadley, underwent an emergency cesarean section after the family was involved in a four-vehicle wreck Saturday in Pender County north of Wilmington.
Authorities say the wreck was caused by a six-wheel commercial box truck that failed to stop.
“Gentry and Hadley are beloved by us all,” Forest Hill Senior Pastor David Chadwick told the congregation Tuesday in an email. “He is a man of enormous integrity. They both possess a deep faith. But it will be challenged in the days and weeks to come like no other time.”
Gentry Eddings had taken his family – which included 2-year-old son Dobbs – for his sister Amber’s wedding at Topsail Beach.
Returning to Charlotte on Saturday, the couple rode in separate vehicles at the end of a four-vehicle family caravan traveling south on U.S. 17 when they stopped about noon at a red light outside the town of Hampstead.
The box truck, also traveling south, approached from the rear, N.C. Highway Patrol Trooper Richard Hendrickson said.
It slammed into Gentry’s car first, pushing it off to the right, then smashed into Hadley’s car – crumpling the rear and back seat where Dobbs was strapped into a car seat, said Forest Hill spokeswoman Stacey Martin.
Dobbs had to be cut out of the wreckage and died on the way to New Hanover Regional Medical Center in Wilmington. His mother was rushed into emergency surgery to deliver the baby they named Reed. On Sunday, he was flown to the North Carolina Children’s Hospital in Chapel Hill, where pediatric neurosurgeons tried to save his life, Martin said.
His father, with minor head and neck injuries, went with him. But in the end, there was nothing doctors could do for Reed Eddings, born at 38 weeks. He died Monday.
Tuesday, Hadley Eddings was recuperating from her injuries and C-section.
Friends set up a GoFundMe page to help with medical expenses. As of Tuesday evening, more than $121,000 had been raised.
They also set up a Facebook page for the couple. It drew condolences from around the world.
No memorial services had been planned, Martin said.
Authorities charged the truck’s driver, 28-year-old Matthew Deans of Wilmington, with misdemeanor death by vehicle and failure to reduce speed. Those charges may grow.
Deans was driving a truck owned by Blackburn Brothers Seafood of Carolina Beach, Trooper Hendrickson said.
“He didn’t realize (the Eddings family caravan was) stopped until the last minute,” Hendrickson said. “He tried to stop – and couldn’t.”
The truck was traveling the 55 mph speed limit at the time of the collision, he said. Hendrickson said Deans wasn’t under the influence of alcohol or any substances, though blood tests were still being processed Tuesday.
In a brief interview with the Observer on Tuesday, Chadwick said he’d been kept updated by church officials helping the family.
“There are no words to describe how sad they feel now,” he said. “The feeling is just incomprehensible. No parent should have to lose a child, much less two, so young.”
Chadwick was scheduled to be off Sunday, letting his campus pastors preach. But after the incident, he took over for the pastor substituting for Eddings on the Ballantyne campus. He spoke to that congregation about grief and about why bad things happen to good people, asking: “How could God allow this to happen?”
The truth is, he said, “We don’t know why this happened. It will be a mystery on this side of eternity.” Researcher Maria David contributed to this report.
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Friends of Gentry and Hadley Eddings set up a GoFundMe page to raise financial support for the family. Find it at: www.gofundme.com/vda7q6e. As of Tuesday evening, more than $121,000 had been raised. David Perlmutt