Bus Crash on Tenn. Highway Leaves Eight Dead

Oct. 02--DANDRIDGE -- At least eight people are dead and 14 injured following a fiery crash Wednesday on Interstate 40 in Jefferson County involving a church bus, a tractor-trailer and an SUV.

Six people on the bus were killed along with the driver of the tractor-trailer and a person in the SUV, according to preliminary numbers from Dalya Qualls, public information officer with the Tennessee Department of Safety & Homeland Security.

Susan Wyatt, spokeswoman for the University of Tennessee Medical Center, said the hospital received 12 patients, four by way of the Lifestar medical helicopter. The hospital is expecting two more patients this evening, she said.

Eight of the patients are in critical condition, two are in serious condition and two are stable, Wyatt said.

The bus was carrying 18 people, according to Qualls, and three people were in the Tahoe.

According to Qualls, the bus's left front tire blew out as it headed east on I-40. The bus then moved from the eastbound I-40 lanes and across the median, clipping the westbound Tahoe and continued on, striking the westbound tractor-trailer on the left side.

The impact caused the rig to immediately catch fire, Qualls said.

The bus, which was carrying members of a senior adult class from Front Street Baptist Church in Statesville, was returning from the 17th annual Fall Jubilee in Gatlinburg. The three-day event, which started Monday, bills itself as "three days of singing, laughing and preaching" for mature and senior believers.

The jubilee wrapped up just before lunch Wednesday with a scheduled appearance by the Rev. Charles Stanley.

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

The crash happened around 2 p.m. at mile marker 423 east of the Interstate 81 split, Sgt. Ken Wright of the Tennessee Highway Patrol said.

Traffic in both directions of I-40 has been shut down and is expected to remain that way for hours. Debris is scattered across the crash scene.

Troopers, deputies and emergency personnel from multiple counties responded to the scene. Fire crews worked to extinguish flames rising from the tractor-trailer. By 4 p.m. smoke continued to waft from the wrecked rig. The white bus was overturned on its side.

In the crash, "The tractor-trailer caught fire and the bus overturned," Qualls said.

An emergency dispatcher with Sevier County said fire and ambulance units were sent to assist Jefferson County at the scene.

According to Qualls, two people in the crash were not transported.

J. Ray Walker, captain of the Jefferson County Volunteer Rescue Squad, reported the trailer continued to burn at 3:20 p.m. The bus, which did not catch fire, was on its side "crossways in the westbound side," Walker said.

Walker said the tractor-trailer was in a ditch on the shoulder of the road.

Walker said he was not aware of any entrapments from the crash.

"We were able to get in and out to everybody," he said.

Walker said emergency fire departments and ambulances from Cocke and Jefferson counties and Dandridge were on the scene.

The National Transportation Safety Board, which investigates mass transportation wrecks, has been alerted to the crash, according to the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency.

TDOT is advising westbound I-40 travelers to get off at Exit 424 to State Route 113 south to US 25/70 West to State Route 92 North back to I-40 Westbound at Exit 417.

TDOT is advising travelers heading toward North Carolina on eastbound I-40 to take Interstate 81 Northbound to Interstate 26 Eastbound and then back to I-40 Eastbound in North Carolina.

News Sentinel online producer David Goddard was at a dentist's office in downtown Jefferson City with his children Wednesday afternoon when "I saw a huge plume of smoke and I started seeing semis drive by. I thought, 'There must have been a big wreck and they're diverting traffic.' "

Goddard said commercial traffic through Jefferson City had noticeably picked up in the moments following the wreck.

More details as they develop online and in Thursday's News Sentinel.

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