8 dead, 14 hurt in Interstate 40 wreck in east Tennessee

Posted at 4:05 PM, Oct 02, 2013
and last updated 2013-10-02 23:49:50-04

(CNN) -- Eight people died when a bus carrying church members home blew a front tire, crossed the grassy median of Interstate 40 in eastern Tennessee, clipped an SUV and collided with a tractor-trailer before overturning, officials said Wednesday.

Six people on the eastbound bus were killed, along with one of three occupants of the SUV and the tractor-trailer driver, the Tennessee Highway Patrol said in a statement.

"We hope and pray that there will be no more," Sgt. Bill Miller told reporters Wednesday evening.

There were 18 people on the bus, which was from Statesville, North Carolina, officials said. It was carrying senior adults who attend Front Street Baptist Church in Statesville.

Fourteen people were injured, the highway patrol said.

The wreck occurred about 2 p.m. in Jefferson County, about 40 miles east of Knoxville, said Tennessee Department of Safety spokeswoman Dalya Qualls. It was on Interstate 40 near the split with Interstate 81.

After the bus went out of control, it struck the westbound Chevrolet Tahoe and the tractor-trailer, officials said. The tractor-trailer caught fire.

Miller said eight of the injured were listed as critical, two as serious and four as stable at the University of Tennessee Medical Center.

Hospital spokeswoman Susan Wyatt said the church group was returning home from a trip to Gatlinburg, Tennessee.

Dionne Stutts, wife of Front Street Baptist Senior Pastor Tim Stutts, said the church did not have specifics on anyone traveling on the bus.

The church group was on its way back to Statesville from the 17th annual Fall Jubilee preaching and singing conference in Gatlinburg, Stutts said.

Her husband was devastated by the news, Stutts said. He and the church youth minister were traveling to Tennessee.

Front Street Baptist, on its Facebook page, Wednesday evening thanked people for their prayers. "We know that God is in control and we need His comfort and peace," a post read.

A photo from CNN affiliate WVLT showed smoke rising from the scene and debris along the highway.

I-40 was closed, and traffic was being rerouted, according to state transportation officials. The scene is expected to be cleared early Thursday morning.

Investigators will look at the condition of the bus and check the driver's qualifications and driving history, according to Miller.