Victims names released in deadly church bus crash on I-40

JEFFERSON COUNTY, Tenn. (WVLT) -- The investigation into the deadly church bus crash that claimed eight lives and shut down a stretch of I-40 in Jefferson Co. early Wednesday afternoon continues into its second day. Authorities reopened the I-40 around 5:00 a.m.

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.

Investigators believe the eastbound bus crashed through the cable guardrail and into oncoming traffic where it clipped an SUV and hit a tractor-trailer. They emphasized though that the investiagation is in its very early stages.

"Nothing will be overlooked," said THP Sgt. Bill Miller. "We will go over every possible scenario."

Miller called it the worst wreck he's seen in his 17 year career.

Six of the 18 people on the bus, which belonged to the First Street Baptist Church in Statesville, NC, were killed, along with one of the passengers of the SUV and the driver of the semi. The names of all of the victims are listed to the right.

He said it was hard to identify the victims due to the nature of the crash and that made it harder for them to notify the families.

Fourteen people were also injured and taken to UT Medical Center. On Thursday morning, officials said two of them remain in critical condition, while seven of them are still listed in serious condition. Three have been stabilized and two more released, so far.

"We are thankful for all the prayers and support that we've been receiving," said the church's pastor Rick Cruz. "It's been a tremendous outpouring of love and support from all around the community and beyond."

The bus was leaving Gatlinburg following a yearly conference there. The Galtinburg 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."

Authorities said its too early to tell if anyone will be charged in connection with the incident.

Preliminary investigation have begun. Official reports can take up to six months.

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