DANDRIDGE, Tenn. — A bus taking a church group home to North Carolina blew a tire, veered across a highway median and crashed into a sport utility vehicle and tractor-trailer Wednesday in a fiery wreck that killed eight people, authorities said.
Fourteen other people were hurt in the accident in northeastern Tennessee, including two who were in critical condition. The bus was carrying members of the Front Street Baptist Church in Statesville, N.C., which is about 140 miles east of the crash site.
The group of seniors, known as Young at Heart, had been to the 17th annual Fall Jubilee in Gatlinburg, Tenn., an event featuring gospel singers and speakers. Its website described the gathering as “three days of singing, laughing and preaching” for “mature and senior believers.”
Inside the Statesville church, people were crying and hugging each other. One woman whispered “It’s going to be all right” while hugging another woman. A service was scheduled for Wednesday night.
George Stadfeld, who has been a member of the church for eight years, said he knew everyone on the bus.
“We’re all shaken,” he said. “As bad as it is, they’re all Christians and I know where they’re at. I’ll join them later.”
Dionne Stutts, wife of Front Street Baptist senior pastor Tim Stutts, said her husband and another pastor from the church were en route to the wreck site.
“They had been there and they were on their way home today,” she said. “We are devastated and just ask for the people to be praying.”
Authorities said the bus crossed the median and the cable barriers that divide the interstate about 2 p.m., clipped the oncoming SUV and slammed into the tractor-trailer, which burst into flames.
Several hours after the crash, clouds of smoke still rose from the tractor-trailer and tree branches that lined the highway were charred.