KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Tennessee Highway Patrol says a blown tire on a North Carolina church bus was the cause of a fiery crash that killed eight people in three vehicles last October.
Speaking at a news conference in Knoxville on Monday, Highway Patrol Col. Tracy Trott said the Oct. 2 crash that occurred on Interstate 40 in Jefferson County, about 30 miles east of Knoxville, was one of the worst traffic accidents in the state's history.
Trott said the investigation found no defect in the tire and there was no evidence any of the drivers were impaired or distracted.
"It was truly just a tragic accident," he said.
The bus was returning to Statesville, North Carolina, with a group of seniors from the Front Street Baptist Church who had been attending a religious retreat in Gatlinburg. After the tire blew, the bus crossed the median and the cable barriers that divide the interstate. It clipped an oncoming sport utility vehicle and slammed into a tractor-trailer, which burst into flames, before coming to rest on its side.
Trott said the evidence indicates the left front tire impacted an object sometime in the 50 miles before the crash, causing the tire to fail once it got hot.
"It could have been a pothole. It could have been an object in the road. It could have been a curb," he said.
The driver of the tractor trailer and a passenger in the SUV were killed along with six people on the church bus, including the driver.
Trott said there likely would have been more fatalities if there had not been troopers working a construction zone only four minutes away.
"Several people were carried or helped out of the bus by THP and EMS as it burned," Trott said, noting that three troopers were given the agency's Lifesaver Award for their work that day.