Four from Holy Spirit Church killed during Haiti mission trip

8:00 PM, Jan 12, 2013   |    comments
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  • Jim & Rita Cwengros (left); Matt Kutsche (top right); Mary LaPonsie (bottom right)
  • Holy Spirit Parish directory photo of Mary LaPonsie
  • Matt Kutsche
  • Holy Spirit Church in Grand Rapids, where four people on a mission trip died in Haiti. (January 10, 2013)
  • Holy Spirit Parish directory photo of Jim & Rita Cwengros

UPDATE (5:15 P.M. Saturday)-- Police tell the Associated Press that brake failure caused the crash that killed four local missionaries.

Police say Mary LaPonsie, Matt Kutsche and Jim and Rita Cwengros were in a Toyota Landcruiser that crashed through a barrier when its brakes failed. Their Haitian driver and interpreter, Martin Glisil, was taken to a hospital where he was in serious condition.

Kutsche's father was in one of four other vehicles heading to a parish in Seguin.

UPDATE (8:40 1/12): A WZZM 13 source in Haiti reports that the accident happened at a ravine known as Tomb Gato (Tombe Gateau) where the missionaries' car plunged off a steep cliff.

GRAND RAPIDS (WZZM) - A West Michigan Catholic parish is mourning the deaths of four people, killed while on a mission trip in Haiti.

A group of 18 missionaries from Holy Spirit Church arrived in Haiti Thursday to provide medical and dental assistance. The group was headed to the Parish of Seguin in the diocese of Jacmel.

Friday, one of the vehicles carrying the missionaries was involved in an accident on an unpaved, mountainous road. A source in Haiti tells WZZM 13 the crash happened near the welcome entrance to Jacmel, south of Port-Au-Prince.

Church leaders identify the four victims as: Matt Kutsche, Mary LaPonsie, and Jim & Rita Cwengros.

WZZM 13 has followed the Holy Spirit missionaries as they prepared for several trips to Haiti to provide relief following the January 12, 2010 earthquake. In an interview that year, Mary LaPonsie told WZZM, "there are moments when I am afraid but I also know that God gives me what I need when I need it."

On Friday, her service to God, and the Haitians, ended abruptly.

"My heart is absolutely bleeding," said Kim Sorrelle, a fellow missionary who has travelled numerous times with LaPonsie.

Laponsie, Jim and Rita Cwengros, and Matt Kutsche, a former East Grand Rapids basketball player and Grand Valley State University graduate, were killed after their vehicle went off a mountain.

"Like anyone who's ever gone on a trip up to Haiti on a mountain, it's not paved roads, it's just gravel roads, it's not even that, it's pretty rough," said Fr. John Vallier, a priest at Holy Spirit Church.

Fr. Vallier says the Haitian driver survived.

Sorrelle has made the journey numerous times.  "I've never feared for my life, but I pray a lot," she said.

Now, she's praying even more, for the three families, their friends, their parish, and for the mission in Haiti they were going to serve.

Sorrelle says LaPonsie was someone who spent her life serving others, and a member of a group that wanted to make a difference in the lives of people who needed it most.

"You see people that go down once to a third world country and say, 'I did it,' or whatever," she said. "Mary was not that kind of person, and I guarantee everyone on that trip, none of them were. They lived it every day."

A vigil is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Saturday at Holy Spirit Church. 

Saturday marks three years since the earthquake that devastated Haiti. The natural disaster killed an estimated 316,000 people and left millions homeless. 350,000 people are still without permanent homes in Haiti.

RELATEDGrand Rapids church continues help in Haiti  

West Michigan team heads to Haiti on anniversary of quake

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