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Church bus blows tire, hits tractor-trailer, SUV; eight killed

Fourteen other people were hurt in the crash in northeastern Tennessee, and all but two of them had been taken to hospitals, state Department of Safety and Homeland Security spokeswoman Dalya Qualls said in an email. The extent of their injuries was not immediately available. (Courtesy AP)

The Trucker News Services

10/2/2013

DANDRIDGE, Tenn. — A church bus blew a tire, veered across a highway median and hit a sport utility vehicle and tractor-trailer Wednesday in a fiery wreck that killed eight people, authorities said.

Fourteen other people were hurt in the crash in northeastern Tennessee, and all but two of them had been taken to hospitals, state Department of Safety and Homeland Security spokeswoman Dalya Qualls said in an email.

The bus was carrying members of the Front Street Baptist Church in Statesville, N.C., which is about 140 miles east of the crash site.

Dionne Stutts, wife of Front Street Baptist senior pastor Tim Stutts, said the bus was carrying a senior adult group who was on the way home from a trip to Gatlinburg.

She said her husband and another pastor from the church were en route to the wreck.

"They had been there and they were on their way home today," she said. "We are devastated and just ask for the people to be praying."

Susan Wyatt, a spokeswoman for the University of Tennessee Medical Center, said all of the injured were adults. Four were flown to the emergency room.

Qualls said 18 people were on the bus and six of them were killed. One person among the three in the SUV was killed and the tractor-trailer driver also died.

The bus crossed the median in Jefferson County about 2 p.m. It clipped the oncoming SUV and slammed into the tractor-trailer, which burst into flames. The bus, which was heading east, overturned.

The accident shut down Interstate 40 in Jefferson County. The bus was on its side next to the tractor-trailer, lying across two lanes of traffic and extending partially into the median. Debris littered the interstate.

The SUV was about 50 yards away from the other vehicles. It was still upright, but the back half had been completely ripped off.

The scene was eerily quiet, despite the presence of many emergency workers. The loudest noise came from helicopters flying overhead.

Wyatt said in addition to those in critical condition, two were in serious condition and two were stable.

The group of seniors, known as Young at Heart, had been to the 17th annual Fall Jubilee in Gatlinburg, Tenn., a three-day event featuring gospel singers and speakers.

Inside the Statesville church, people were crying and hugging each other. One woman whispered "It's going to be all right" while hugging another woman. A service was scheduled for Wednesday night.

George Stadfeld, who has been a member of the church for eight years, said he knew everyone on the bus.

"We're all shaken," he said. "As bad as it is, they're all Christians and I know where they're at. I'll join them later."

The Fall Jubilee website described the gathering as "three days of singing, laughing and preaching" for "mature and senior believers."

After the accident, a banner was posted on top of the website saying, "Our thoughts are with our friends at Front Street Baptist Church in their tragic loss. ... all the Jubilee team have you in our prayers."

Loller reported from Nashville. Associated Press writer Skip Foreman in Charlotte, N.C., contributed to this report.

The Trucker staff can be reached to comment on this article at editor@thetrucker.com.

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