KNOXVILLE, Tenn. Even before he knew the worst, even before the boundaries of the tragedy were confirmed, pastor Tim Stutts set out for Knoxville to minister to his flock.
Stutts received word Wednesday afternoon that the bus carrying members of his congregation from a gospel jubilee in Gatlinburg had crashed, but it was hours before he knew the full story.
It was a good deal of time before we knew it was our church group, Stutts said. He drove with Jeremy Miller, the youth pastor at Statesvilles Front Street Baptist Church, to the University of Tennessees Medical Center, where the 12 survivors of the crash were taken. Six aboard the bus were killed, as were two others in other vehicles.
In all, there were 18 members of the churchs Young at Heart team on the excursion, ranging in age from 62 to 95.
Stutts described them as a tight-knit group of seniors who enjoyed traveling together. They were known for taking part in the churchs various missions and for visiting nursing homes and other churches to share the gospel with a zeal that belied their years, he said.
Stutts said he has talked to each of the survivors, including those in critical condition.
They are devastated, he said. One of their first questions is about the others on the bus.
Clutching a black Bible, Stutts said the church grieves for their loss but celebrates their arrival in heaven. We rejoice for them, he said.
Since the accident, condolences have poured into the Statesville church by the hundreds, from as far away as Asia, Stutts said.
Killed in the crash were Cloyce Matheny, 95; Brenda Smith, 69; Marsha McLelland, 62; Randy Morrison 66, who was driving the bus; and Barbara Morrison, 66, his wife, all of Statesville; and John Wright, 73, of Mocksville.
In critical condition Friday at the UT medical center were Joanna Elledge, 70, and Marvin Boyer, 74, both of Statesville.
In serious condition were Thomas Smith, 74; Benny Elledge, 72; Norma Hellard, 78; all of Statesville; and Beverly Wright, 62, of Mocksville.
Injured but stable were Sandra Boyer, 67; Doris Swaim, 68; Steven Swaim, 68; Wanda Martin, 63; and Ed McLelland, 64, all of Statesville.
Brenda Jolly, 70, was discharged Friday morning.
Killed in a Chevrolet Tahoe that was hit when the bus crossed the median of Interstate 40 was Trent Roberts, 24, of Knoxville, who was thrown from the back seat of the vehicle during the crash. Two other occupants of the car have been released from the medical center.
Mose Farmer, 66, of New Orleans was identified Friday by the Tennessee Highway Patrol as the driver of the tractor-trailer, which was carrying a shipment of paper goods.
Authorities are examining the wreckage of the bus, which appeared to lose its front left tire, sending it skidding across a 10-yard-wide grass median and through a four-cabled restraining device and into oncoming traffic near Mile Marker 423 in Jefferson County, Tenn.
Investigators have found gouge marks from the rim of the bus wheel in the left lane of I-40 leading into the median, said Sgt. Bill Miller of the Tennessee Highway Patrol.
Authorities also said Friday that the vehicle did not have a U.S. Department of Transportation number, which is required for interstate travel. According to Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regulations, church buses must have a DOT number if they travel to other states, said Dalya Qualls, spokeswoman for the Tennessee Highway Patrol.
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