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Sister missionary dies in N.Y. car accident

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 31 2011 11:41 p.m. MDT

Sister Vanessa Bentley poses with a young girl she met on her mission to New York.

Provided by Bentley family

LISBON, N.Y. — Vanessa Bentley, a 22-year-old missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from Tucson, Ariz., was killed Tuesday in a two-car collision on state Route 37 in the town of Lisbon in upstate New York.

Sister Bentley's companion, Natalie Love of Hemet, Calif., and the driver of the other vehicle involved in the accident, Nora McDonald of Madrid, N.Y., were also injured in the collision. Their injuries do not appear to be life threatening.

According to the police report, the accident occurred when the car carrying the two missionaries from the Utica New York Mission attempted to make a left-hand turn. The other vehicle hit the passenger's side of the missionary vehicle directly. Sister Bentley was sitting in the passenger's seat.

LDS Church spokesman Scott Trotter said that Sister Bentley had been serving as a missionary for 13 months at the time of the accident.

"Our sympathy and prayers go out to all those affected by this accident," Trotter said. "We pray that the Spirit of the Lord will bring comfort, peace and healing to all."

Vanessa Bentley is the fifth of Steve and Debbie Bentley's seven children and the third to serve an LDS mission (her two brothers both served missions in Ecuador).

"She sort of stuck out in our family," said her faither, Steve. "She was blonde; the rest of us have dark hair."

Her father said she had "an infectious laugh and a beautiful smile, and a real way with people."

That ability was noted by a non-LDS woman in Ithaca, N.Y., who met Vanessa when she and her missionary companion served in the soup kitchen there. She wrote to Vanessa's parents to tell them how impressed she was with the kindness and compassion so clearly manifest through her service. "She said even the priest who was over the soup kitchen was impressed with Vanessa," her mother, Debbie, said.

A former high school basketball player ("she was tall and lanky," her father said), Vanessa worked for the BYU audio-visual department while she attended college. "One time I was watching a basketball game on BYU-TV and I saw one of the players run over Vanessa and her camera," Steve said. "I immediately texted her to see if she was OK. Within a few minutes they were talking to her live on the TV. She said, 'I just got a text from my Dad asking if I'm OK. So yes, Dad, I'm fine!' "

Her grandmother, Eva Bentley, said she will always remember her as "a real fun person … she loved people, and people loved her."

"She was loving her mission," her grandmother said. "Even when people rejected her in the mission, she would say that she was just preparing them for the next missionaries who would come along."

Angela Rowberry of Sandy, Utah, was Vanessa's roommate at BYU for three years. She described her as "a really fun person, always upbeat" who was "obsessed with painting her nails" and could eat an entire bag of potato chips in one sitting. She said Vanessa was studying to be an elementary school teacher, and "was really good at it. She'd practice reading stories to us and make us do all these dances she wanted to teach to her kids. She was going to be a great teacher."

Rowberry says she remembers watching Vanessa wrestle with the decision of whether or not to go on a mission. "She had been talking about it for a long time, but when the time came to make the decision she considered it very carefully for a long time," she said. "But when she got the call, she couldn't wait to get out there. She loved the Lord, and she was excited to serve him."

And she was doing it well, Steve Bentley said. "Her mission president told us that she was a great missionary — humble, obedient and hard-working," he said. "She did everything she was asked to do, willingly. We just have to assume that Heavenly Father was in charge of this last transfer."

EMAIL: jwalker@desnews.com

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