Dandridge, TN- A bus carrying elderly church members back home to North Carolina lost control, setting off a fiery chain-reaction collision that left eight people dead and 14 others injured. The Wednesday afternoon collision tied up Interstate 40 for hours backing up traffic for hours.
Police say that the van, carrying 1 members of a Statesville, North Carolina, was traveling eastbound on I-40 when a front tire blew, causing the van to careen out of control. The van crossed the center median clipping a SUV, carrying three passengers, and striking a tractor trailer, according to Tennessean.
Because of the impact, the tractor trailer immediately erupted in a blaze and the church bus overturned. It appears that the bus hit 100 gallon diesel fuel saddle on the truck.
The heat of the blaze was so intense that trees lining the interstate were charred.
The bus did not catch fire, but Jefferson County Emergency Management Director Brad Phillips said there was some heat exposure to the van. The bus was lying on its side partially in the median. Emergency crews had to extricate some of the passengers.
The SUV stopped about 50 yards away from the tractor trailer and its rear had been completely severed from the front of the vehicle.
A truck driver Charles Ragan who witnessed the crash told WBAY- TV, “This is the first scene that’s bothered me that bad, and I’ve seen them all. So I’ve cried. I’ve been here since 2 o’clock, and I’ve cried and I’ll cry again. I’m about to cry now. But it’s a bad thing.”
Tennessee Highway Patrol spokesman Dalya Qualls said eight people died. The deceased include the tractor trailer driver, a passenger in the SUV and six van passengers. Authorities say that it could take days to identify their remains.
Fourteen people were injured. As of 8 p.m. last night The University of Tennessee Medical Center reported that six people were in critical condition, two were in serious condition and four were stable condition. Two of the injured arrived in personal vehicles, the Tennessean reported.
Dionne Stutts, wife of Front Street Baptist senior pastor Tim Stutts, said the group was traveling from the Fall Jubilee in Gatlinburg back to Statesville. She said the people on the bus were aged 55 and older and part the “Young at Heart” group at the church.
Tennessee Highway Patrol spokesman Sgt. Bill Miller said at an evening news conference, “This is an extremely horrific event.”
With the government shutdown, Tennessee state authorities will be conducting the investigation, which would typically be handled by the National Traffic Safety Board. Investigators will be looking into the bus driver’s record, qualifications of the bus driver and DOD on the bus.
Authorities said today there are looking tire malfunction as the cause of the accident.
This was a tragedy and demonstrates how deadly bus and truck accidents can be, especially on interstates where people drive at speeds in excess of 55 mph.