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Tennessee Bus Crash Leaves 8 Dead; Fire Makes IDs Difficult

Image: Tennessee Bus Crash Leaves 8 Dead; Fire Makes IDs Difficult

By Michael Mullins   |   Friday, 04 Oct 2013 09:39 AM

A fiery Tennessee bus crash Wednesday that left eight people dead and 14 others injured burned some of the victims so badly that positive identification won't be possible for days.

During an update Thursday morning, Sgt. Bill Miller with the Tennessee Highway Patrol said the investigation was still in the very early stages and that identification of the victims has been difficult, reported WBIR.com. He described the crash as probably the worst he's seen in his career.

The collision occurred on Interstate 40 in northeastern Tennessee when a church bus carrying mostly senior citizens blew a tire, sending it across a highway median where it struck an SUV and a tractor-trailer.

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The bus overturned after hitting the tractor-trailer, which caught on fire as a result of the impact, according to Tennessee Department of Safety spokeswoman Dalya Qualls, ABC News reported.

Eighteen people were on the bus at the time of the accident, six of whom were killed, the Tennessee Department of Safety stated in its preliminary report. The tractor-trailer driver, along with one person in the SUV, were also killed as a result of the collision.

The bus, which was owned by the Front Street Baptist Church in Statesville, N.C., had been travelling back from a three-day annual church festival in Gatlinburg, Tenn.

"They had been there and they were on their way home today," said Dionne Stutts, wife of Front Street Baptist Senior Pastor Tim Stutts, according to the Associated Press. "We are devastated and just ask for the people to be praying."

The church is about 140 miles east of the crash site.

Among the deceased was the bus driver and his wife, Randy and Barbara Morrison, both of who were 66 years old. Randy, who had worked for a trucking company, and Barbara, a retired school teacher, had been married for 50 years, according to their son, Daniel Morrison.

Morrison told the AP that his parents had been spending a significant amount of time with him in recent months helping him care for his two young children after their mother, his wife, had died from a brain aneurysm in December.

"You expect things to happen — you don't expect them to happen in one year," he said. "I know the Lord has a reason for everything, but I don't know what it is yet."

Other victims from the church were 95-year-old Cloyce Matheny, 69-year-old Brenda Smith, 62-year-old Marsha McLelland and 73-year-old John Wright, the AP noted.

Trent Roberts, 24, of Knoxville, Tenn. died in the sports utility vehicle, while the driver of the tractor-trailer was not yet identified.

The National Transportation Safety Board will reportedly not be sending investigators to look into the Tennessee bus crash due to the government shutdown.

"In this particular case, I think it’s highly likely that we would have responded to it, but again, with our investigators furloughed, it’s impossible to do that," Sharon Bryson, deputy director of communications for the NTSB, told NBC News.

"All of our highway investigators are furloughed," Bryson added.

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In response to the tragic accident, residents of the 25,000-member community of Statesville, N.C., gathered at the church to mourn the loss.

"There was a very long night for all of us," Front Street Baptist associate pastor Rick Cruz said Thursday morning. "We know God is in control and is able to heal."

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