Athens Review, Athens, Texas

April 30, 2013

Driver still in intensive care

Man who drove into church may have suffered a seizure

Rich Flowers
The Athens Review

MALAKOFF —   The man at the wheel of a car that slammed into a Malakoff church last week, igniting a fire that gutted the structure, remained in the intensive care unit at East Texas Medical Center Tyler on Monday.

  Robert Michael Nokes, 38, of County Road 1708 in Malakoff was airlifted to the hospital on Thursday afternoon after his SUV crashed into the front of the Mary Queen of Heaven Catholic Church. ETMC Public Relations Manager Rebecca Berkley said Nokes was in critical condition Monday afternoon.

  Texas Department of Public Safety Trooper Monica Carranza said Nokes may have suffered a seizure or  some other medical problem, causing his car to veer from County Road 1703 and smash into the front of Mary Queen of Heaven Catholic Church. Carranza said the driver was on his way to meet his father at a storage facility.

  “His father said his son took seizure and blood pressure medication,” Carranza said.

  Nokes was conscious, but “not very responsive when he arrived Carranza said.

  According to DPS reports the wreck occurred at about 1:40 p.m. The church secretary, Carol Lennard, who was inside the building at the time told authorities that she heard the sound of the collision. Lennard saw the 2004 Buick Rendezvous with Nokes, apparently unconscious, with his foot on the accelerator. The wheels kept spinning, even as fire began to spread throughout the building.

   Malakoff Police Department and Fire Department personnel quickly arrived at the location. Malakoff Police Officer Robert Sigmund pulled Nokes from the car, while Chief Billy Mitchell began to attack the vehicle fire.  EMS loaded Nokes on a helicopter for transport to Tyler. The Malakoff Fire Department was assisted at the scene by units from Log Cabin, Caney City and Payne Springs.

   According to the Mary Queen of Heaven website, the church was organized in 1996 in a 10,000 square foot building that was once home to a sewing factory. By 1999, the renovations were done and the structure became the permanent home of the church.