Most victims of I-40 TN bus crash identified - FOX Carolina 21

Most victims of I-40 TN bus crash identified

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The church bus and tractor trailer were taken to a TN Dept. of Transportation site for further investigation. (Oct. 3, 2013/FOX Carolina) The church bus and tractor trailer were taken to a TN Dept. of Transportation site for further investigation. (Oct. 3, 2013/FOX Carolina)
Emergency crews work to tow away a church bus after the fatal I-40 crash Wednesday. (Oct. 3, 2013/FOX Carolina) Emergency crews work to tow away a church bus after the fatal I-40 crash Wednesday. (Oct. 3, 2013/FOX Carolina)
DANDRIDGE, TN (FOX Carolina) -

The Tennessee Highway Patrol released the names of seven of the eight victims of the fatal crash that shut down Interstate 40 for hours on Wednesday.

Authorities said the front left tire malfunctioned on a church bus that was carrying members of the Front Street Baptist Church from Statesville, NC, causing a "horrific" crash that shut the interstate down for hours.

According to troopers, the bus crossed the median about 2 p.m. Wednesday, hitting an oncoming Chevy Tahoe then almost instantly hit a tractor-trailer, which burst into flames. The bus then turned onto its side.

Cloyce Matheny, Brenda Smith, Marsha McLelland and John Wright from Front Street Baptist Church were killed in the accident, along with the bus driver, Randy Morrison, and his wife, Barbara Morrison, troopers said. 

The driver of the SUV involved in the wreck, Trent Roberts, of Knoxville, was also killed in the accident.

The driver of the tractor-trailer involved has yet to be identified.

The accident shut down I-40 in Jefferson County until early Thursday morning.

Authorities describe 'horrific' crash, what comes next

The Tennessee Highway Patrol said there were eight fatalities at the scene, six of whom were on the bus. Trauma centers were set up along the interstate to aid the injured and traffic was diverted for several hours, according to the Highway Patrol.

"This is probably, in my 17 years here, probably the most serious incident that I've ever been a part of," said Sgt. Bill Miller with the Tennessee Highway Patrol.

Brad Phillips with Jefferson County Emergency Management Agency said he has worked with the Jefferson County Rescue Squad for 21 years and it was the largest scale accident he had ever dealt with.

Fourteen people were taken to the University of Tennessee Medical Center in Knoxville, where they remained Thursday morning in conditions from stable to critical. The names of those killed in the crash have not yet been released, but rescuers said they were all adults.

The American Red Cross is assisting the victims and their families as they recover from the crash. Phillips said bystanders along the interstate even helped immediately following the aftermath, helping the injured as first responders poured in to the scene from neighboring counties.

Miller said they were still working to identify many of the victims, including who was driving the bus. He said the bus did have seatbelts, though they don't know if everyone was wearing them.

Troopers in Tennessee will lead the investigation into the crash and work to determine what caused the crash, but said it will take a while to complete an official report because they are still in the very preliminary stages.

Many details remain unknown on Thursday. Miller said they are still working to determine where the 18-wheeler was licensed to, but he did say the truck was hauling kitchen paper towels.

Authorities said there was a cable rail system in place along part of the median, but because of the bus' size and speed, it could not completely stop the bus from crossing to the other side of the interstate.

Officials said they will look at all possible causes, including inspecting the bus, the guard rail, the bus' service history and more.

Church, community respond to tragic wreck

The bus was carrying a group of senior citizens who were headed home after a trip to Gatlinburg for the 17th Annual Fall Jubilee, which is a three-day gospel festival with live music and speakers.

The event posted on their website a statement about the crash, saying, "Our thoughts are with our friends at Front Street Baptist Church in their tragic loss. Pastor Johnny Hunt, the congregation at First Baptist Church Woodstock, and all the Jubilee team have you in our prayers."

Churches in the Dandridge area also helped to counsel families of the victims Wednesday following the tragic accident.

"We were able to give them a place to rest, and some food and some water until their families were able to meet up with them," said Cory Hammett, a pastor at First Baptist Church of Dandridge.

The pastor from Front Street Baptist Church inStatesville also held a press conference Thursday morning.

"We are thankful for all the prayers and support that we've been receiving," said pastor Rick Cruz. "It's been a tremendous outpouring of love and support from all around the community and beyond."

Click here to read more about what he said and how the community is dealing with the loss.

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