POCATELLO (AP) – A 19-year-old Mormon missionary from California was in very critical condition following a car crash in Idaho, hospital officials said Wednesday.
Taylor Ward, of Vacaville, Calif., and another missionary with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were in a two-car crash Tuesday evening in southeastern Idaho, state police said. Ward was the passenger in a sedan driven by fellow missionary John Floyd, 20, of Deep Run, N.C.
Idaho state police said Floyd drove through a stop sign. The car then collided with the passenger side of a Ford F350 pickup truck.
Ward was taken to Portneuf Medical Center in Pocatello, Idaho, where he was on life support, hospital spokeswoman Brenda Stanley said. Floyd was injured but survived. The driver of the pickup also survived.
More updates on Ward’s condition were expected later Wednesday, Stanley said.
Ward began his two-year mission in Pocatello, Idaho, in July, said LDS church spokesman Eric Hawkins in a statement.
“We are deeply saddened, and share with his family, friends and fellow missionaries in their grief,” Hawkins said in the statement.
There have already been at least five deaths this year of Mormon missionaries around the world _ including two in the last two weeks.
On Aug. 31, Jose Daniel Encarnacion Montero, 20, of the Dominican Republic, was killed in Cali, Colombia, when he was hit by a stray bullet. Encarnacion was with three other missionaries when he was killed, but they weren’t harmed.
On Aug. 25, Jason Wiberg, 19, of Roy, Utah, died after being hit by a car while on bicycle in Kuching, Malaysia. Wiberg had been on mission since October 2012.
Spurred by an historic lowering of the minimum age for missionaries, the Utah-based faith has more ambassadors serving around the world than at any time in the church’s history.
The 75,000 missionaries are a 28 percent increase from about 58,000 a year ago. The church expects the number to swell to 85,000 by year’s end.
Last October, the church announced men could begin serving at 18, instead of 19, and women at 19, instead of 21. That’s led to new, younger missionaries joining older ones already planning to go.
Two of the three other deaths this year occurred in Guatemala, and the other in Oklahoma.
On July 22, Josh Burton, 23, of Alberta, Canada, died from injuries suffered when a truck he was riding in overturned. Burton was on a mission in Guatemala. He was just months from completing his two-year mission.
On June 19, Siosiua “Josh” Taufa, 20, of Salt Lake City, was electrocuted while trying to fix a family’s leaky roof in Guatemala, where he had served for 18 months. Taufa was the second oldest son of a Utah Highway Patrol sergeant who is a member of Gov. Gary Herbert’s security team.
On Feb. 1, missionary Alesa Renee Smith, 22, of Benton, Ark., was killed in Woodward, Okla., when she was hit by a truck while on her bicycle.
There have been other near-misses, too.
Stephen Ward, an 18-year-old Mormon missionary from Bountiful, Utah, was aboard a train that hurtled off the tracks in northwest Spain and hit a wall, killing 79 people. Ward’s face was caked in blood, his leg bruised and his neck injured, but he survived.
Missions are considered rites of passage for many Mormons, broadening their perspective on the world, strengthening their faith and helping prepare some for future leadership roles within the church.
Young Mormon men are expected, but not required, to serve missions. Historically, women have faced far less pressure to serve, though the church has seen a spike in mission applications from women now that they can serve two years earlier. Men serve two years while women go for 18 months.