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8 died in horrendous church bus crash. Most families just reached a settlement.

Families of five Statesville church members killed in a 2013 bus crash have settled wrongful death lawsuits against a South Korean tire manufacturer, their lawyers said Tuesday.
Families of five Statesville church members killed in a 2013 bus crash have settled wrongful death lawsuits against a South Korean tire manufacturer, their lawyers said Tuesday. WBTV

Families of five Statesville church members killed in a 2013 bus crash have settled wrongful death lawsuits against a South Korean tire manufacturer, their lawyers said Tuesday.

Twelve others who were hurt in the wreck on Interstate 40 in Tennessee have settled personal injury cases against Hankook Tire Co. Ltd., lawyers with the Georgia-based law firm of Butler Wooten & Peak announced. Terms of the settlement are confidential, the lawyers said.

Members of the Front Street Baptist Church Young at Heart Seniors Ministry were returning from the 17th Annual Fall Jubilee in Gatlinburg when their bus careened across the median near mile marker 423 on the interstate. The bus hit an SUV and then slammed into a tractor-trailer. Both the driver of the truck and a passenger in the SUV were killed.

Failure of a front tire on the Statesville church bus led to the crash, investigators said.

A forensic examination of the remains of the tire by the Tennessee Highway Patrol showed it failed from within, probably after contact with some road hazard – a curb, pothole or debris – within 50 miles of the crash scene, the Observer reported in 2014.

Authorities said there would have been no way to see damage from the outside of the radial tire, but the belts inside had broken after striking something. Air then seeped into space between the belts and the tread and, as the tire heated up from road friction, the air expanded and blew the tread outward, according to the examination.

The cases in Iredell County Superior Court against Hankook claimed the tire was “negligently and defectively manufactured and designed,” failing “to meet the reasonable expectations of an ordinary consumer as to its safety.” The Statesville law firm of Homesley Gaines Dudley & Clodfelter also represented the plaintiffs.

Killed on the bus were the driver and his wife, Randy and Barbara Morrison, and church members Cloyce Matheny, Marsha McLelland, Brenda Smith and John Wright. Randy Morrison was licensed to drive a passenger bus and was experienced in operating it.

Killed in the Chevrolet Tahoe SUV was Trent Roberts, 24, of Knoxville, who was thrown from the back seat of the vehicle during the crash despite wearing a seat belt. Also killed was Moses Farmer, 66, of New Orleans, driver of the tractor-trailer, which was carrying a shipment of paper goods.

The settlement announced Tuesday ends an overall case against Hankook “that has been extensively litigated for more than three years,” lawyers for those killed and injured said in a statement. “The settlement also secured closure for the surviving passengers and family members of those deceased.”

Lawsuits brought by the estates of three others killed in the crash – Farmer, Roberts and Randy Morrison – remain pending in court.

Joe Marusak: 704-358-5067; @jmarusak

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