New Port Richey church van crash kills two members

NEW PORT RICHEY — A church van from First Baptist Church of New Port Richey full of people on their way to a youth camp in Georgia crashed in North Florida on Friday morning, killing two.

The van was headed north on Interstate 75 in Lake City when its left rear tire blew, sending the van to the east shoulder of the road, where it began flipping, according to a Florida Highway Patrol report.

“Several occupants were ejected,” the report states.

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The van’s driver, Jeff Novak, 52, and Michalanne Salliotte, 44, both of New Port Richey, were pronounced dead at the scene. Family of Novak and Salliotte could not be reached.

Shawn Moore, who rents a house from Salliotte in Holiday, described her as sweet and accommodating. “She was the kind of person you just wish everybody was,” he said.

Three teenagers in the van were taken to UF Health Shands Hospital in Gainesville; one of them, 14-year-old Jacob Newman of New Port Richey, suffered critical injuries. Another four teens and an adult were taken to Lake City Medical Center.

The teens in the van were Jared Gress, 14, of Odessa, minor injuries; Eric Paules, 12, of Trinity, minor injuries; Jared Leach, 14, serious injuries; Javen Andrews, 13, of Hudson, minor injuries; Oliver Newman, 12, of New Port Richey, minor injuries; and Corinn Salliotte, 16, of New Port Richey, minor injuries.

Eric Paules was the only person in the van wearing a seat belt, the FHP report says.

First Baptist Associate Pastor Ed Gilman spoke to reporters Friday afternoon at the church’s Trouble Creek Road campus. He read a statement saying the church has lost “two of our dearly loved members.”

“We ask that you respect the privacy of the families involved and continue to pray for healing,” Gilman said.

The church may hold a prayer vigil Saturday, he said, and the crash victims will be honored during Sunday services.

The head pastor, Guy Sanders, was in North Florida.

Joseph Flynn, a youth pastor at nearby Living Word Church, said he heard about the crash and drove to First Baptist to offer support.

“I stopped doing what I was doing to pray and do some early mourning. I came here to pray,” he said.

Wally Potts, a Sunday school instructor for adults at First Baptist, said he knew the victims of the crash “from a distance.”

“It’s a numbing thing,” he said, “even if it’s people you don’t know well, they’re still members here.”

He estimated the church has about 900 members, and he said he considers all of them part of a large family.

Times staff writer Lisa Buie and researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.