NEW HAVEN, Mo. – Sixty-seven-year-old Danny J. Smith was known as Pastor Dan at St. Peter’s United Church of Christ in New Haven, Missouri. He was supposed to take the pulpit this past Sunday.
“There were a lot of tears shed in our church yesterday morning,” church member John Berger said.
Church member Audrey Freitag added, “He just fit into the whole community so well.”
Pastor Dan was scheduled to preach Sunday in the small river town in Franklin County. Instead, some church members learned he was one of the five people who died Friday night traveling through Central Illinois when a chemical truck reportedly jackknifed and spilled anhydrous ammonia onto the road.
Preliminary coroner findings report exposure to the chemical as the likely cause of deaths when the victims drove by the crash. Berger saw the news reports, then soon learned Pastor Dan was among those who died.
“I immediately called one of our church council members and advised them of the sad news,” he said. “Pastor Dan was a great guy, always wanting to get involved. He was great with our congregation. He did a great job with the kids.”
Freitag said the pastor “did so much” for the church. The reverend’s name is still on the last church bulletin and the memory of his good work will remain, like his work with Berger in the Lion’s Club.
“He liked to do it because he wanted to be with people,” Berger said.
Pastor Dan modeled celebrating, Berger said, both his ministry inside the church and his life outside.
“He loved to travel,” Berger said. “He had a Harley-Davidson. He liked to get on his bike and just take the road. He didn’t know where the road was going to lead him, but he knew he would come back. Unfortunately, that trip, he was not on his motorcycle, but with the accident, he did not make it back.”
Frietag added, “The comfort I get is that God wanted him home, and we will have to go on.”