Missionary from Utah in Arkansas dies in car accident; 3 other elders injured

Elder Jake Smith, a 19-year-old missionary from Lehi, Utah, serving for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, died Thursday, Jan. 7, in a car accident near Rosebud, Arkansas.

Smith, who had been serving as a missionary since August 2019, was one of four missionaries from the Arkansas Little Rock Mission that were involved in the accident Thursday evening north of Little Rock, said Sam Penrod, a Church spokesman.

The other three, who were injured but are expected to recover, are Elder McKay Jurges of West Jordan, Utah; Elder Gavin Hatch of Cedar Hills, Utah; and Elder Eli Sutherland of San Diego, California. Elder Jurges sustained serious injuries and remains hospitalized, said Penrod, adding that Elders Hatch and Sutherland both sustained minor injuries.

“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.”

Elder Smith is the third of four children of Steve and Tina Smith of the Lehi 47th Ward, in the Lehi Utah East Stake.

President Bryan D. Atwood of that stake, who served previously as the Smiths’ bishop, remembers the late missionary as influential in his own family and among his friends.

“He’s the kind of young man that always had a smile on his face and was quick with a joke or to tell a story,” he said of Elder Smith. “And it wouldn’t be but a few minutes before everybody around him also had a smile on their face.”

Speaking on behalf of the Smith family, President Atwood said “obviously, grief and sorrow, were among the first emotions for them to feel, but I was impressed with how quickly, those emotions turned to expressions. … They knew what he was doing, they knew why he was there, and this is where he wanted to be.

“I happened to be in the room as they broke the news to some other family (members), and just the way that they faithfully told others about it was inspiring to me. I know it’s a difficult time.”

President Atwood and the missionary’s family noted that Elder Smith — who enjoyed the outdoors and riding motorbikes — had indicated on his driver’s license that he wanted to be an organ donor. When his parents were contacted by a state trooper for confirmation, his dad was not at all surprised by the donor designation. His father said, “That’s typical Jake,” the stake president recalled.

“Jake is the kind of person that would give a person the shirt off his back and then probably worry tomorrow morning about how he was going to get a new shirt — there’s no thought for himself. So the fact the punctuation mark on the end of his mortal life would be to pass in the service of our Heavenly Father seems the perfect ending for someone like Jake Smith.”