Tearful Witness: Church Bus Accident 'Very Bad'

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Several members of a North Carolina church were killed in a head-on collision on a Tennessee highway Wednesday. Eight people are in critical condition.

The church members were returning from a jubilee event when their bus went out of control along Interstate 40, east of Knoxville, Tenn.

Authorities say the bus veered off the highway, crossed the medium into oncoming traffic, hit an SUV with three people inside before slamming into a tractor trailer, which burst into flames.

The drivers of all three vehicles died in the accident, and five people on the bus were also killed.

The cause of the crash: a blown tire on the church's bus.

"In my 17 years, (it's) probably the most serious incident I've ever been a part of," Sgt. Bill Miller with Tennessee Highway Patrol said.

"It's the first time I can say it ever bothered me this bad, and I've seen them all," said Charles Ragan, who witnessed the horrific accident. "So I've cried, been here since 2 o'clock, and I've cried and I'll cry again," he said as tears ran down his cheeks. "It's a very bad thing."

The bus was carrying members of the Front Street Baptist Church in Statesville, N.C.  The group of seniors, known as "Young at Heart," had been to the 17th Annual Fall Jubilee gathering in Gatlinburg, Tenn., a three-day event featuring Gospel singers and speakers.

Front Street Pastor Johnny Hunt talked about those who lost their lives.

"We don't have all the facts to give here, but we do know that there are several who went on to be with the Lord," he said.

At the church, family members prayed and waited for word about their loved ones.

Church member Jerry Wright said his brother occasionally drives the bus on church trips, and he was on this trip with his wife.

"I've been trying the phone," Wright said. "It's been ringing and ringing, but I've tried both of them and haven't gotten an answer from both of them. I'm just hoping for the best. But right now I don't know."

The pastor said they're devastated and asked for prayer.

"This is a time of difficulty, but we trust in God," Pastor Hunt said. "We trust in God that he is there always."

The church held a memorial service Wednesday evening.

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Caitlin Burke and Charlene Israel

Caitlin Burke and Charlene Israel

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