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Missionary from Utah who died in Arkansas was ‘doing what he wanted to be doing’

Three other missionaries were injured when an SUV swerved into their car. One missionary, also from Utah, remains hospitalized with serious injuries

Elder Jake Smith, 19, of Lehi died after a car accident near Rosebud, Ark., on Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021.
Smith family

A talkative, outgoing missionary from Lehi died instantly Thursday night when the vehicle he and three other missionaries were traveling in crashed in Arkansas, according to a family friend and a spokesman for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Elder Jake Smith, 19, a 2019 graduate of Skyridge High School and member of the school’s mountain bike racing team, had been serving in the Arkansas Little Rock Mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints since August 2019.

The month before he left to begin his mission, Smith went to a Latter-day Saint temple with his family to be sealed together. The sealing ceremony is “an opportunity for family relationships to perpetuate beyond death,” Lehi East Stake President Bryan Atwood said. “What a great level of comfort that has brought the family in these hours.”

The family experienced shock and grief at the sudden loss, said Atwood, who previously served as the Smiths’ bishop in a Lehi congregation for three years. He was present when the parents notified Elder Smith’s younger sister of his death.

“Both mom and dad were able to chime in and tell her, ‘He was where he wanted to be, doing what he wanted to be doing,’” Atwood said. “There was a lot of sorrow, a lot of grief, but amidst that, I also felt a lot of faith and I was just strengthened by being in their presence.”

The accident happened on State Highway 5 in Rose Bud, Arkansas, at 8:29 p.m. An SUV crossed the center line and collided with the driver’s side of the sedan Smith was driving. The road was wet and the weather conditions were cloudy, according to an Arkansas State Police preliminary crash summary, KAIT reported.

The other three missionaries suffered injuries and were taken to Unity Health Hospital for treatment. They are expected to recover, according to church spokesman Sam Penrod.

They missionaries are:

  • Elder McKay Jurges, of West Jordan, who sustained serious injuries and remains hospitalized.
  • Elder Gavin Hatch of Cedar Hills.
  • Elder Eli Sutherland of San Diego, California.

Hatch and Sutherland suffered minor injuries.

Elder Jake Smith, 19, of Lehi died after a car accident near Rosebud, Ark., on Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021.
Smith family

“We pray for all of them as they recover,” Penrod said. “We also express our sincere condolences to the family of Elder Smith and to all the missionaries of the Arkansas Little Rock Mission. We pray they will each feel the Savior’s love and comfort during this difficult time.”

Atwood said Smith was at the center of a large friend group at Skyridge High School.

“When you ask me about Jake, I smile,” he said. “Anybody who knows him, they have that same impression. There’s about 16 of them that are out actively serving (missions) right now, and Jake is the levity of that group. Jake was the storyteller, he was the one that always had a smile and a joke, and within a couple of minutes everybody around him was smiling and laughing, too. That’s just the way he was, just a sincere, good kid.”

Atwood said Smith was the type of person who would give the shirt off his back. The family spoke with an Arkansas state trooper who noted that Smith had agreed on his driver’s license to be an organ donor. Smith’s father told Atwood and the family that being an organ donor was the kind of kid his son was.

“He would want to serve in any way he could,” the father said, according to Atwood.

Smith’s friend group is mourning his loss as word spreads.

“It’s a community loss,” Atwood said.

Arkansas Little Rock Mission President Robert Cahoon told the Smith family that Elder Smith passed away in the service of Heavenly Father, Atwood said. He mentioned Matthew 19:29, “And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life.”

The Smiths told Atwood they were grateful they were able to speak with Elder Smith weekly throughout his mission.

“That did come up several times in our conversation,” he said, “how grateful they were that they had just spoken to him on Monday and that they had regular conversations with him.”