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Church crash driver hospitalized, police say

The driver of a 2008 Infiniti G35 crashed

The driver of a 2008 Infiniti G35 crashed into the Second Baptist Church in Baldwin Sunday, March 8, 2015, Nassau police said. Credit: Paul Mazza

The driver of a car that crashed through the wall of a Baldwin church early Sunday morning, injuring his passenger and causing an estimated $100,000, was arrested hours after fleeing the scene, Nassau County police said.

The damage caused Sunday services for the congregation of the Second Baptist Church to be moved across the street.

Police identified the driver as Sherif T. Wheeler, 21, of 1549 Kenneth Ave., Baldwin, and said he was arrested and charged with leaving the scene of a crash causing injury and with operating a motor vehicle without a license. Wheeler was admitted to a hospital with undisclosed injuries after his arrest and was given a desk appearance ticket.

Police said Wheeler surrendered at the First Precinct.

He faces arraignment in First District Court in Hempstead on March 23, police said.

A passenger in the vehicle, a blue 2008 Infiniti G35, also fled after the car, which was traveling southbound on Grand Avenue, went out of control, struck a tree and then the church at 2040 Grand Ave. at 4:25 a.m., police said. The passenger, identified only as a 20-year-old, was taken by a friend to a hospital for injuries suffered in the crash. He was not arrested.

The crash caused a disruption for church congregants, who were forced to move Sunday services across the street to a newly constructed church building that was due to officially open later this month.

Several of the about 100 congregants declined to comment, saying they had been directed by church officials to remain silent about the crash.

But during the service, Pastor Preston Drinks spoke about the incident.

"Have you ever had life throw you some curveballs?" the pastor asked. "Have you ever had things happen that you weren't expecting? I think everyone in this room has at some point or another.

"We were not expecting this morning to wake up at 4:30 a.m. and find a car in the lobby of the church. Life has a way of hitting you with things you aren't expecting," he said.

Drinks said the fact that someone apparently was able to survive such an impact and leave the scene on their own is almost a miracle.

He said whoever crashed the vehicle "careened into the air and into the church."

"It's unbelievable that you're able to walk off from that. Only God. Only God," Drinks had said before the service began.

"Just as it has become a pivotal turning point in our lives, it will become a turning point in their lives."

Construction inspector Neal Lennstrom, whose crew had been working on the new building across the street, was at the scene Sunday morning assessing the damage.

He estimated repair costs at roughly $100,000 for the replacement of steel beams, walls, masonry, framing and electrical wiring.

With John Asbury

CORRECTION: In a prior version of this story, the name of the driver charged in connection with the case was incorrect.

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