KNOXVILLE, TN (WBTV/WVLT) -
The pastor of a Statesville church spoke Thursday morning after at least eight people died when a bus carrying a church group was involved in a crash with a tractor trailer outside Knoxville, Tennessee.
“Six of our loved ones have gone to be with The Lord in Heaven,” said Pastor Rick Cruz of Front Street Baptist Church. “It’s been a very long night for all of us here and this morning we continue to receive information.”
Authorities say a tire on a church bus blew out and the bus hit a tractor-trailer and sport utility vehicle. It happened along I-40 westbound at mile marker 423 in Jefferson County, Tenn., just past the I-40/I-81 interchange.
The bus was carrying a group of 18 people from Front Street Baptist Church in Statesville. There were three people in the SUV.
In a press conference police said it appeared that the front tire on the bus carrying the church members was blown, and might have caused the bus to steer into oncoming traffic.
The Tennessee Highway Patrol said on Thursday morning that the wire median barrier was not made to handle the weight of the bus.
WBTV has learned the group was headed back to North Carolina from a festival in Gatlinburg, TN.
The group was part of the 17th Annual Fall Jubilee at the Gatlinburg Convention Center. The jubilee was a three-day event that ended on Wednesday.
Church members began to gather at Front Street Baptist Church shortly after news of the crash broke.
One church member told WBTV that he is trying to cope with the news as they await details. His brother and sister-in-law were on the bus.
“I’m in a state of shock,” Jerry Wright said.
Pastor Rick Cruz told WBTV that the congregation was saddened by the news they had heard and that they appreciate all the prayers given.
Pastor Cruz confirmed the victims in the crash were a senior group of church members called Young at Heart.
Several church members are dead, and more being treated at the hospital, Cruz said.
According to preliminary numbers from officials in Tennessee, six people from the bus were killed. One person in the tractor trailer was killed, along with one person from the SUV.
Fourteen other people were reportedly injured in the crash. Four were airlifted to the hospital, eight people were transported by ambulance and two people were injured but not transported.
Eleven of the patients were taken to UT Medical Center, seven are in critical condition and four are in serious condition.
The Galtinburg Convention and Visitors Bureau issued a statement following the crash.
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to everyone involved in the tragic accident on I-40 East involving a Statesville, NC church group who were on their way home from a conference in Gatlinburg.”
Cruz thanked the community Thursday morning for the overwhleming outpouring of support.
“We know that God is in control and we know that he is able to heal even in this difficult time we do rejoince in the fact that 6 of our loved ones are in Heaven with the Lord right now and we know Jesus gave his life for each one of us on the cross so that we may have everlasting life, so that’s the hop that we hhold onto and that’s the truth that we hold onto everyday.”
Interstate 40 reopened at the site of the bus crash around 5 a.m. Thursday morning.
Anyone with a family member who was involved in the crash can call the American Red Cross at 865-305-5716.
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