Investigators release victim names in deadly church bus crash in Tenn.
KNOXVILLE, TN (WBTV/WVLT) - The Tennessee Highway Patrol has identified seven of the eight people killed in a fiery bus crash on Interstate 40 on Wednesday.
Six of the dead were members of the Front Street Baptist Church in Statesville, N.C. They include the bus driver, Randy Morrison, and his wife, Barbara Morrison.
Other victims from the church are Cloyce Matheny, Brenda Smith, Marsha McLelland and John Wright. All are from Statesville except Wright, who is from Mocksville.
The highway patrol also released the list of church members who were injured in the wreck.
- 74-year-old Thomas L. Smith
- 70-year-old Joanna L. Elledge
- 72-year-old Benny Elledge
- 67-year-old Sandra Boyer
- 74-year-old Marvin Boyer
- 68-year-old Doris Swaim
- 68-year-old Steven Swaim
- 78-year-old Norma J. Hellard
- 62-year-old Beverly Wright
- 70-year-old Brenda Jolly
- 63-year-old Wanda Martin
- 64-year-old Ed Mclelland
One person in the sport utility vehicle, Trent Roberts of Knoxville, was killed. The driver of the tractor-trailer was a New Orleans man.
Officers on Friday identified the man as 66-year-old Mose Farmer, who was operating a 2014 Volvo Tractor Trailer loaded with paper towels and headed for B.A.H. Express out of Calhoun, Ga.
The Highway Patrol said no charges have been filed in the crash.
The Highway Patrol says the bus veered across the median and into oncoming traffic after a tire blew out, hitting a sport utility vehicle and a tractor-trailer, which caught fire.
Troopers said that the wire median barrier was not made to handle the weight of the bus.
No juveniles were involved in the crash but troopers said it's been hard to identify some of the victims due to the nature of the crash.
A Tennessee Highway Patrol spokesperson said investigators are still on the talking to witnesses and collecting evidence to determine what happened. Right now, they believe the bus driver lost control of the bus after a tire malfunctioned
Troopers said it would be extremely difficult to keep control of the bus if a tire were to malfunction.
"Nothing will be overlooked, we will go over every possible scenario" said Sgt. Bill Miller with the Tennessee Highway Patrol.
Sgt. Miller says the bus was owned and operated by Front Street Baptist Church.
"It was not a charter or a leased bus. It was a church-owned bus. They were on an adult outing and senior trip. The driver's history, we can't get into that at this point in time," said Sgt. Miller. "As far as an issues with the bus, any safety issues, prior knowledge of that, that's all under investigation as well."
One of the ministers of Front Street Baptist Church spoke Thursday morning outside of the church in Statesville.
"Six of our loved ones have gone to be with The Lord in Heaven," said Rick Cruz, minister of music. "It's been a very long night for all of us here and this morning we continue to receive information."
Authorities say 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 on Wednesday.
Eighteen people from Front Street Baptist Church were on the bus. They were part of a senior group of church members called "Young at Heart."
There were three people in the SUV that was struck, one of those people died. The eighth victim was the driver of the tractor trailer.
So far, no names have been released as troopers attempt to notify all families involved.
WBTV has learned the Front Street Baptist Church group was headed back to North Carolina from a festival in Gatlinburg, TN.
They were 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 on Wednesday evening, 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 Cruz told WBTV that the congregation was saddened by the news they had heard and that they appreciate all the prayers given.
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.
Initially, eleven of the patients were taken to UT Medical Center, two are in critical condition and seven are in serious condition and 5 are stable.
Two of those patients were released from the hospital Thursday morning.
The Gatlinburg 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 overwhelming 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 rejoice 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 hold 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.
There is information about the crash WBTV is still trying to confirm.
Because the bus was used to cross state lines and carried more than 15 people, there are federal regulations that the church has to follow.
The driver of the bus, according to the Department of Transportation, would need to have a commercial driver's license.
At this time, it is not clear if the driver of the church bus had a commercial driver's license.
Other regulations include getting the bus regularly inspected and maintained. Records of this work must be documented.
WBTV has been unable to obtain the bus safety records from the church.
According to troopers, the preliminary investigation has begun, but the official reports would take up to six months.
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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