JEFFERSON COUNTY, TN -- Authorities say a tire on a Statesville church bus blew out and the bus hit a tractor-trailer and sport utility vehicle in northeastern Tennessee, killing eight people.
Six of the eight killed in Wednesday's bus accident were from the Front Street Baptist Church in Statesville.
Tennessee Highway Patrol released the names to media on Thursday afternoon.
THP names the deceased as 95-year-old Cloyce Matheny, of Statesville, 69-year-old Brenda Smith, of Statesville, 62-year-old Marsha Mclelland, of Statesville, 66-year-old Barbara Morrison, of Statesville, 66-year-old Randy Morrison (Driver), of Statesville, and 73-year-old John Wright, of Mocksville.
The driver of the Chevy Tahoe who died in the crash is identified as 24-year-old Trent Roberts, of Knoxvill.
Among the injured are:
- Thomas L. Smith, 74, Statesville, N.C.
- Joanna L. Elledge, 70, Statesville, N.C.
- Benny Elledge, 72, Statesville, N.C.
- Sandra Boyer, 67, Statesville, N.C.
- Marvin Boyer, 74, Statesville, N.C.
- Doris Swaim, 68, Statesville, N.C.
- Steven Swaim, 68, Statesville, N.C.
- Norma J. Hellard, 78, Statesville, N.C.
- Beverly Wright, 62, Mocksville, N.C.
- Brenda Jolly, 70, Statesville, N.C.
- Wanda Martin, 63, Statesville, N.C.
- Ed Mclelland, 64, Statesville, N.C. (husband of deceased Marsha Mclelland)
The state Department of Safety and Homeland Security said the chartered bus crossed the median in Jefferson County about 2 p.m. on Interstate 40, near mile marker 423.
The bus clipped an oncoming SUV and hit the tractor-trailer, which burst into flames. The bus, which was heading eastbound, overturned.
The tractor-trailer was fully engulfed when first responders arrived on the scene. Nearby witnesses told reporters on the scene they heard loud booms at the time of the crash.
The agency said eight people were killed and 14 people were hurt. Two are in critical condition, seven are serious condition, three are in stable condition and two have been discharged from the University of Tennessee Medical Center.
The bus was returning to Front Street Baptist Church in Statesville and had 18 members on the bus. The people on the bus were part of the church’s Young at Heart Seniors Ministry, a tight-knit group that frequently traveled together.
According to the church's website, a group from the church, Young at Heart, a group of seniors, visited a Fall Jubilee in Gatlinburg.
Six of the eight fatalities are from the passenger bus, one from the tractor-trailer, and one from the passenger vehicle.
My prayers go out to Statesville's Front Street Baptist Church members and others involved in a 3-vehicle crash in TN today.— Pat McCrory (@PatMcCroryNC) October 2, 2013
I-40 was closed in both directions at mile marker 423 in Jefferson County all Wednesday evening. All lanes were reopened early Thursday morning.
"Even in this difficult time, we do rejoice that six of our loved ones are in Heaven with The Lord right now," said Pastor Rick Cruz at a press conference Thursday morning.
Church members are stunned by the news.
"To those who are Christian, we know our fellow people are in a better condition. It's just that we're the ones that's hurting, not them," said one member who didn't want to be identified.
Pastor Cruz said the church has been humbled by the response across the state.
"It's been a tremendous amount of love and support from all around the community and beyond," said Cruz.
A neighbor of a couple on the bus, wasn't sure if they survived, but said the two practiced their faith outside the confines of church.
"They're good neighbors, take me to pay my bills," said Velma Sherill.