Two full-time missionaries died Tuesday morning after a head-on collision between two cars while the men were serving missions for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a spokesman said.
Elder Luke Masakazu Carter, 18, of Springville, Utah, and Elder Eli Jon Fowler, 20, of Pueblo West, Colorado, were killed in the crash in Denton, Texas, church spokesman Sam Penrod said in a statement.
The driver of the other vehicle was hospitalized with injuries.
The collision occurred at 10:53 a.m. Tuesday during a heavy rainstorm, according to the Denton Record. An inch of rain had fallen over the previous hour. The missionaries were driving a Toyota Tacoma when it was struck by a pickup truck.
“The preliminary investigation determined that a Ford F-250 was traveling southbound on Sherman Drive when it crossed into the northbound lane of traffic, striking a Toyota Tacoma nearly head on,” Denton Police Department spokeswoman Amy Cunningham said in an email to the Deseret News. “Both occupants of the Toyota Tacoma were pronounced dead on scene. Investigators are working to determine what factors contributed to the crash.
Both missionaries were wearing seatbelts at the time of the accident, Penrod said.
The missionaries were returning from a service project when the accident happened, another missionary, Elder Skyler Chapman, who knew and served with the two missionaries, said in a Facebook post.
Carter and Fowler were serving in the Texas Fort Worth Mission. Carter began his missionary service in November 2020, and Fowler started his mission in January 2020.
“We express our love and deepest sympathies to the family and friends of Elder Carter and Elder Fowler and to the missionaries in the Texas Fort Worth Mission,” Penrod said. “We pray that all will be uplifted by the Savior’s love and feel comfort during this difficult and trying time.”
Fowler’s family and friends were “shocked and saddened” by his sudden passing Wednesday, said F. Jeffrey Bertoldo, a family spokesman and president of the church’s Pueblo Colorado Stake.
“They are firm in their faith of Jesus Christ and know that he has great plans and purposes for Eli,” President Bertoldo said. “They are surrounded by a very loving ward and stake family who are mourning with them and loving them. ... We feel very strongly the love that Heavenly Father and the Savior have for Eli and his family.”
President Bertoldo said the family was given some additional details about the accident.
“It was a very serious rainstorm,” he said. “An oncoming vehicle crossed into their lane of traffic and they struck head on, a head-on collision.”
The stake president described Fowler as a “tenderhearted” person who loved being around people. He possessed a gift for making people happy.
“When he would walk into a room it put a smile on people’s faces,” President Bertoldo said.
Fowler’s father coached him in youth soccer leagues growing up and he went on to play the team sport all four of his years at Pueblo West High School. He was an Eagle Scout and worked one summer at San Isabel Scout Ranch.
Prior to his mission, Fowler worked as a medical assistant and at a call center in an orthodontics practice.
President Bertoldo also noted that the young man learned a little Russian and how to pray in Mandarin Chinese because he was interested in learning and finding new ways to “connect” with people.
“He wanted to connect with people in the deepest way,” he said. “He was thrilled to be called into full-time missionary service and bring others unto Christ.”
Carter was the second of seven children in his family. His older brother is currently serving as a full-time missionary in the Nevada Reno Mission, said President Eric Graves of the Springville Utah Spring Creek South Stake.
“The family is doing as well as to be expected,” he said. “They are in a state of grieving and they are feeling the pains of losing a child.”
Carter attended Springville High School prior to his mission and was described as an active young man, engaged in a variety of interests and hobbies. He was known for his optimism and enthusiasm.
“He was a very happy, exciting young man with a contagious smile, one that was almost on the verge of laughter every time you would see him,” Graves said. “His mother shared with me that he’s a spark of sunshine in their family and in the lives of everybody that knew him.”
When Graves interviewed Carter for his mission, he asked him why he wanted to serve? Carter told the church leader, “I want people to be as happy as I am.”
“That really stuck with me,” Graves said.
In his Facebook post, Chapman said he served as a district leader to the two missionaries and appreciated their friendship.
“As their district leader and fellow missionary, I had the chance to spend valuable time with each of them on exchanges, at service projects, out fishing, in meetings and, most importantly, as another servant of Jesus Christ,” Chapman said. “Both are some of the most amazing missionaries I have ever met. They worked so hard and were always smiling, bringing joy to the world around them. They were as Christlike as any individual can be.”