Victims of deadly TN church bus crash sue tire maker, bus driver

Victims of a deadly church bus crash in Tennessee have filed a lawsuit against the maker of the tire that was deemed to be the cause of the crash.

A lawsuit was filed in Iredell County court on Wednesday by members of Front Street Baptist Church. A bus from the church was involved in a deadly crash along Interstate 40 last October.

Eight people were killed in the collision; six of them were members of the church.

The lawsuit was filed by 12 survivors of the crash, in addition to estate executors of five people killed in the wreck.

The crash occurred on Oct. 2 along I-40 westbound near mile marker 423. The driver of an 18-wheeler and the passenger in a SUV were also killed in the crash.

Following an investigation, the Tennessee Highway Patrol announced in April the wreck was caused by a tire blowout.

Claim focuses on tire

The lawsuit claims the tire was “negligently and defectively manufactured and designed,” saying it “failed to meet the reasonable expectations of an ordinary consumer as to its safety.”

The investigation shows that the 1997 Metrotrans Europa Motorcoach, owned by Front Street Baptist Church, had a left-front tire failure that caused the driver to lose control.

Investigators believe the tire hit something about 50 miles before it blew out. They determined there was not a defect in the manufacturing of the tire.

The maker of the tire, New Jersey-based Hankook Tire, was named as a defendant in the lawsuit.

The lawsuit also names the estate of Randolph “Randy” Morrison as a defendant.

Morrison was a member of the church and was driving the bus when the deadly crash occurred. His wife, Barbara, was killed in the crash and her estate is listed as one of the plaintiffs in the case.

Big medical bills cited

The lawsuit claims Morrison “maintained and operated the bus as his ministry to Front Street Baptist Church.”

The lawsuit claims Hankook failed to warn consumers about “the dangerous characteristics” of the tire, even though they “had knowledge of such hazards, risks, and dangers.”

In addition to Morrison and his wife, Cloyce Matheny, Brenda Smith, Marsha McLelland and John Wright were killed in the crash. Twelve other church members were injured.

The group was returning from the 17th Annual Fall Jubilee at the Gatlinburg Convention Center.

During its initial investigation, troopers said the bus veered across the median and into oncoming traffic after a tire blew out, hitting a sport utility vehicle and a tractor-trailer, which caught fire.

The lawsuit disputes the investigation, saying the tire, purchased in September 2008, “suffered a sudden, catastrophic, and complete tread/belt separation. The tread/belt separation was caused because the subject Hankook tire, which was manufactured at Hankook’s Geumsan plant in the Republic of Korea, was defective.”

According to the lawsuit, the survivors claim no one felt any sort of impact with “a road hazard” before the deadly crash.

The lawsuit claims the survivors incurred “significant medical expenses” from their injuries and continue to suffer from the injuries they sustained.

For the five that died, the lawsuit claims they experienced “pre-impact shock, fright, and terror, and consciously suffered” prior to their deaths.

Each of the 17 plaintiffs are seeking damages that exceed $10,000.

WBTV reached out to Hankook Tire company officials for a comment on the lawsuit.

So far the company has not replied.