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Freak mishap leaves family heartbroken

GATESVILLE – Family was always so important to Linda Edwards.

Perhaps it was only fitting that her family was by her side when she departed this life on December 31.

In what can only be described as a freak mishap, the 52-year-old Bethel Christian Academy (BCA) teacher died after a tree fell on a vehicle in which she was a front seat passenger.

Joined by her husband, David “Dave” Edwards, and two sons, Brian and Paul, the family was en route back to their Gatesville home from visiting family in Maryland. Mr. Edwards was behind the wheel of the family’s van, traveling on a stretch of Highway 35 in Sussex County, Va. when a pine tree snapped due to Wednesday’s high winds (gusts up to 60 mph).

“As we got off Interstate 95 and got on Hwy 35 going toward Courtland (Va.), a huge pine tree snapped about a third way up from the ground and came down on our van,” Mr. Edwards said. “Linda was knocked out and we called 9-1-1. I checked and she had a pulse, but was so confined around the damage that we could not recline or open her passenger side door.”

Mr. Edwards, who only received minor cuts, went to on say that the vehicle’s windshield shattered and the front passenger side of the van received the most of the impact. The portion of the tree that struck the van, according to Edwards, was 40 inches in diameter and 20 feet in length.

Neither of the couple’s two sons, who were back seat passengers, was injured. What was even more amazing was that the family’s pet dog – “Zorro” who was in Mrs. Edwards lap at the time of the incident – was not injured.

“It was just a freakish thing,” Mr. Edwards said. “The tree came out of nowhere. I didn’t have time to react.”

Edwards said his wife had a weak pulse when emergency responders arrived.

“They had to use the Jaws of Life to get to Linda,” Edwards said, referring to a device that pries apart metal. “Even then they had to slide her out of the van through the driver’s side door.”

Mrs. Edwards was rushed to Southside Regional Medical Center in Petersburg, Va.

“We all decided to pray as we waited for news as they said they were working on her,” Mr. Edwards recalled. “Our fears and sorrows were confirmed when the doctor came in and said that Linda had received severe brain damage from the tree and never regained consciousness. He said they continued rescue breathing procedures, but all attempts failed. It hit us all very hard.”

The tragic news traveled fast back to the Roanoke-Chowan area.

“It is just a tragic situation,” said BCA Principal Chris Howerton. “We’re all shocked. Mrs. Edwards was a special person. She could sit down beside a child and just had a way with them.”

Howerton said he had the opportunity to speak with Mr. Edwards and prayed with him over the telephone.

“We’ve assured them we will be there for them in any way we can,” Howerton said.

The principal also said counseling would be available to any student who felt like they needed it.

“Pastor Buddy and Cheryl (Denton) immediately have gotten involved,” Howerton said. “We’ll all be available to any student who needs us. As a Christian school, we feel like students can go to their teachers, the pastor, Cheryl or myself and we will be able to talk to them.”

Edwards had been away from the school for more than a month due to knee surgery, but Howerton said they were looking forward to her return.

“We saw her at the Christmas party as she indicated she would let me know over the holidays if she was feeling well enough to return,” he said. “It’s a terrible loss.”

Carolyn Pearce, Adult Services Supervisor with the Hertford County Department of Social Services (where Mrs. Edwards worked for five years) called her former employee a “good social worker.”

“She worked well with people and did a lot of volunteer work,” Pearce noted.

At her church, Union Baptist, Mrs. Edwards served as a Sunday School teacher for youngsters as well as a member of the church choir.

“The last memory I have of Linda was the smile on her face as she sang with the choir during our Christmas Cantata,” said the Rev. Curtis Pixler, pastor of Union Baptist. “You could see the joy on her face and her love for Christ as she sang.”

He continued, “Joyful, faithful and committed, those three words sum up Linda Edwards. Because of her commitment to her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Linda is in Heaven.”

Meanwhile, her family holds fast to memories.

“She was a great wife and mother,” Mr. Edwards said. “We had been married for over 30 years. It will be hard to adjust to life without her.”

Echoing Rev. Pixler’s thoughts, David Edwards said he knew exactly where his wife is now located.

“We know that Linda, without a doubt, is with the Lord and no longer has any pain or suffering, or problems with diabetes, or having to go through physical therapy which she dreaded and hated,” he said “She has received the perfect healing and she is rejoicing in Heaven.”

Despite battling his grief, Mr. Edwards, a teacher/coach at Gates County High School, closed by offering words we can all live by.

“I ask that none of you take each other for granted and that you show your love for each other every day that you can with a hug, a rub, a kiss, and an ‘I love you’ from time to time,” he said. “We all were blessed because Linda and her family came into our lives, we are all better because of it. Perhaps Jesus will come back soon for all of us that have received him as Lord and Savior so that we can be together again.”

A celebration of life service will be held for Linda Edwards at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Jan. 10 at Union Baptist Church.

(Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald Staff Writer Thadd White contributed to this story.)