(Photo: 14 News)
Grieving relatives remembered their loved ones as police identified the victims of Wednesday's bus crash on an East Tennessee interstate, six of whom were members of North Carolina's Front Street Baptist Church.
"We're tending to the families and praying for the best possible outcome of this tragedy," the Rev. Ted Cruz, an assistant pastor at the church in the small town of Statesville, N.C., told The Statesville Record & Landmark. "We are coming together as a church family and ask the larger community to keep us in their prayers."
The dead included Randy Morrison, a Vietnam veteran who was driving the bus on which church members were returning from a Fall Jubilee Conference in Gatlinburg, Tenn., according to The Associated Press. His wife, Barbara, a grandmother of five, also died in the crash.
Those on the bus were senior church members and part of a group called "Young at Heart."
Other victims from the Statesville church were identified as 95-year-old Cloyce Matheny, who went skydiving in his '90s; 69-year-old Brenda Smith, a grandmother of four and whose husband survived the crash; 62-year-old Marsha McLelland, a retired nurse and whose husband also survived the wreck; and 73-year-old John Wright, a father of two and a choir singer.
Except for Wright, who was from Mocksville, N.C., all the victims were from Statesville.
The bus collided with a tractor-trailer and SUV Wednesday afternoon after its left front tire failed. "A piece of rubber caused all this heartbreak," said David Waugh, whose father-in-law and mother-in-law, Ed and Martha McLelland, were on the bus. Ed, a former teacher at Statesville High School, received serious injuries to his head and wrist.
A man in the SUV also died. He was identified as Trent Roberts, 24, of Knoxville, Tenn. The driver of the tractor-trailer was identified as 66-year-old Mose Farmer, of New Orleans.
A dozen others on the bus received injuries, and some were said to be critical. The injured were admitted to UT Medical Center in Knoxville, Tenn.
"I knew probably everybody who was on the bus," Emmy Miller, a church member, was quoted as saying. "… They would want us to know they are in a better place now," Miller said. "We all know God is in charge and that this will make us stronger. That's what Front Street is all about."
"I had some great friends on that bus and I'm sure knew all of them who were members of the church," the Rev. Jeff Luxon, Front Street's former senior care pastor, was quoted as saying. "I don't know which of them were hurt right now but my prayers are with all of them and my faith is in God, but this is definitely going to be a grieving community."
Front Street Pastor Tim Stutts said it was challenging for him to shuttle between Knoxville and Statesville, about three-hour drive from the former. "One of the toughest things I have experienced is not being able to be in two places at once," he said. "I know the need here was great also."
Stutts also told The Statesville Record & Landmark that people from around the community and the nation were offering help. "There have been so many people who don't know exactly what the needs are or exactly what to do but who still want to help," he said. "Christ's love and mercy continue to wash over us."
State and local agencies will lead investigation, and not the National Transportation Safety Board, due to the partial government shutdown. Almost all of the board's 400 employees have been furloughed, including accident investigators.