Wallace, SC Van And Two Truck Crash, Feb 1999


Wallace, S.C. - (AP) - There was help at the Wallace Family Life Center on Wednesday, but after the deaths of five children in a traffic accident, it was not the kind that area residents have depended on for a quarter of a century.
Instead of the after-school homework help and adult education classes, counselors were on hand to help staff members and those who attended the various programs deal with the aftermath of Tuesday's collision between a day-care van and a two truck.
"We're going to mourn and grieve with the families," said Randall Jackson, director of the church-supported community center.
The van, with six students and a driver, collided with the heavy-duty tow-truck at an intersection of State Highway 9 between Wallace and Bennettsville, near the North Carolina line.
The van driver, SHIRLEY CHRISTINE BENNETT, was in serious but stable condition at Marlboro Park Hospital in Bennettsville. She lost her 10-year-old son, WILLIE MALACHI, in the wreck. Her 11-year-old daughter, ARIELLE NICOLE MALACHI, was in critical condition at Palmetto Richland Memorial Hospital in Columbia.
The two-truck driver, WILLIE ODOM of McCall, was released from the Bennettsville Hospital, a nursing supervisor said.
A decision on possible charges had not been made Highway Patrol 1st Sgt. Jo Nell said.
BENNETT had worked at the center for seven years and was "an excellent employee," Jackson said.
The others who died were sisters APRIL SESSOMS, 9, and WANDA SESSOMS, 7, and half-siblings PHILLIP HAILEY, JR., 7, and DEVONA BLOOMFIELD, 11. All were from the Wallace area, Marlboro County Coroner Tim Brown said.
Two of the dead boys "were my best friends," Jackson said. "We sent WILLIE MALACHI to camp this past summer." PHILLIP was a straight-A student at Wallace Elementary School, as was his sister, Jackson said.
A service was held in the school's gym to let teachers and students talk about the loss.
"It's a school where everyone knows everyone," Principal Randall Malachi said.
"All the teachers know the kids and all the kids know other kids."
Counselors from the school system, the Department of Social Services and the community were there to help the youngsters and staff. "Basically just to give the kids an opportunity to talk out what their feeling," Malachi said.
BENNETT was driving a 15-passenger van and was taking 10 students home from the after school tutorial program, Jackson said. She already had dropped off four of the students when the wreck occurred.
Three children were thrown from the vehicle and the van wound up in a ditch.
"It's one of those unimaginable things," said Brown, who called it the worst wreck he had seen in 14 years as coroner.

Times and Democrat Orangeburg South Carolina 1999-02-18