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8 dead, 14 injured in I-40 crash in Tennessee

12:16 PM, Oct 3, 2013   |    comments
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Video: I-40 bus crash among worst first responders have seen

The scene of a three vehicle crash, involving a tractor trailer, a bus and a passenger vehicle on I-40 in Jefferson County (WBIR)

Knoxville (WBIR) -- Two people injured in Wednesday's fatal I-40 bus wreck have been released from the hospital. As of 10:30 Thursday morning, 12 people remain hospitalized. UT Medical center said two are in critical condition, seven in serious condition and three in stable condition.

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(WBIR - Jefferson County) Less than 24 hours after what officials described as a "horrific event" on Interstate 40 in Jefferson County killed 8 and injured 14 others, we're learning more about the crash from officials.

On Wednesday, a passenger bus owned by a North Carolina church was traveling eastbound on I-40 near mile marker 423 when, according to THP, its left front tire experienced a malfunction or failure. The driver lost control and the bus crossed the median and crashed into a tractor trailer and clipped a Tahoe SUV that was heading westbound. THP said the tractor trailer immediately caught fire and the bus overturned. The accident happened around 2 p.m Wednesday.

The bus was from Front Street Baptist Church in Statesville, North Carolina. Dionne Stutts from the church confirmed the bus was on its way back from an event called Fall Jubilee in Gatlinburg. She says the group on board is called "The Young at Heart" and they're mostly ages 55 and up.

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

According to Sgt. Miller, the bus did have seat belts. But, he said the crash was so horrific that determining if seat belts were used or not may not be possible to determine.

He also said the cable rail system on the westbound lanes are installed and designed to restrain a vehicle and stop it from crossing the median, but not something of the size of the bus. Sgt. Miller said he believed that even if there was a "traditional guard rail system" in place, the passenger bus would have pushed through it as well.

"If this had been a traditional guard rail-type system that most people are familiar with, with the big wide metal galvanized steel guard rails, it would have pushed through that as well. Guard rails and cable systems are there to restrain vehicles but if it's a dead-on collision into that cable rail or guard rail system, the vehicle will go through that," Sgt. Miller said.

Sgt. Miller also estimated the passenger bus, if going the speed limit of 70 miles per hour and making a direct hit, would have likely won out even over a concrete divider wall.

During Thursday morning's update, Sgt. Miller said they have their best inspectors working the case and they are charging hard to get all the answers to the incident. However, he said this crash investigation will be a process and not something that will one or two days to work.

In addition, he said they plan to investigate the speed of the bus until they determine it was not a factor.

All lanes of I-40 in Jefferson County were reopened early Thursday morning and the three-vehicles involved in the wreck have been taken to the Newport Department of Transportation lot for further investigation.

The Red Cross is assisting the victims and their families. If you believe you have an immediate family member involved in the crash, you can call the Red Cross at 865-305-5716 for information.

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