A former volunteer track coach and Southern Baptist minister was scheduled to be arraigned Friday in East Tennessee on charges he raped a 14-year-old girl, but the hearing was rescheduled after his lawyer asked for more time.
According to news reports, Timothy Neal Byars, 44, resigned as minister of youth, education and music at Springhill Baptist Church in Dyersburg, Tenn., following his November arrest on charges of rape, sexual battery by an authority figure and aggravated statutory rape. He is still identified, however, as a staff member on the church Web site and in a minister-search database at the Southern Baptist Convention Web site, SBC.Net.
Byars is accused to molesting a 14-year-old Dyersburg student traveling with him to cross-country meet in Knoxville. He was released on $50,000 bond paid by his wife. Ten days later he was arrested on a Nashville warrant on one charge of sexual battery against the girl’s older sister, who is an adult. He was released from jail there on $25,000 bond.
Byars drove the two girls, along with his two teenage daughters, to Knoxville so they could compete in the Amateur Athletic Union Southeast Cross Country Championships. Police say they arrived several hours before the Nov. 18 meet and stopped in a parking lot to rest, and that Byars molested the 14-year-old while she slept in the back of his SUV.
Police said the girl was later able to text her parents and tell them she was in trouble. They had a friend with a plane who was able to fly them to Knoxville immediately, where they contacted police.
The sister, 19, later gave police in Nashville a statement that provided “probable cause” for the additional charge. She accused Byars of touching her inappropriately as she drove the team van through Nashville.
“It was not a situation of it occurring just for a second or two,” Nashville Metro Police spokesperson Don Aaron told NewsChannel 5. “She said the inappropriate contact occurred for a time as they were on I-40, we believe in Nashville.”
According to TV station WBIR, Byars held a lot of positions giving him access to kids. “This person was known to the family,” said Steve Still, an investigator with the Knoxville Police. “He was the track coach at the school, youth minister, a music minister, a person in a position of authority but a person one would generally think could be trusted.”
According to the Associated Press, Byars admitted the alleged rape when confronted by investigators.
Since graduating from Louisiana Tech in 1985, according to the Dyersburg State Gazette Byars has taught at three schools in Louisiana, five in Tennessee and one in Missouri, never staying more than three years at the same school.
Teachers and administrators speaking on condition of anonymity told the paper he was not allowed to return to work as a teacher at the school in 1994, because he was found to have tampered with a state test.
In January prosecutors asked a court to order Byars to obey a no-contact order, saying he “gazed” at the alleged victim during a DyersburgHigh School basketball game.
“He tendered his resignation this morning by telephone,” James Branscum, pastor of SpringhillBaptistChurch, told the newspaper Nov. 19. Byars had been a member of the church since 1994.
Byars’ pastor told media the church would pray for him and his family, as well as for the families of the alleged victims.
“Only the Lord knows the facts right now,” Branscum told NewsChannel 5 in Nashville. “The allegations we’ve heard in the last couple of days are just that, allegations.”
Christa Brown of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP)-Baptist, said Byars isn’t the only alleged sex offender listed as a minister in the SBC database. EthicsDaily.com reported in October that a Rev. John O. McKay of Hondo, Texas, is listed there, even though he has been in prison for sexual assault since 2004.
Brown, a survivor of clergy sex abuse as a teenager, said it is “slap in the face” to victims and their families to see admitted and convicted child molesters remain listed as Southern Baptist ministers.
“Given that SBC officials don’t even bother to remove convicted child molesters from their own Nashville-based ministerial database, I can’t see that their talk of caring has much manifestation at all in deeds,” she said.
Brown has asked the Southern Baptist Convention to create an independent review board to investigate charges of clergy sex abuse and make that information available to churches. SBC leaders have said they are concerned about clergy who sexually abuse, but they are limited by the denomination’s local-church governance.
James Porch, executive director of the Tennessee Baptist Convention, did not respond to an e-mail request for comment prior to the deadline for this story.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.