Investigators at a Tennessee Department of Transportation facility in Newport, Tenn., examine the church bus involved in a fatal accident Wednesday on Interstate 40 in which eight people died. (Paul Efird / AP)
After the fiery crash of a church bus in Tennessee, Daniel Morrison knew a phone call would be coming.
His parents were among a group of seniors from a North Carolina church who had eagerly awaited their big annual outing, a trip to a three-day festival in Gatlinburg, Tenn., featuring gospel singers and speakers.
But on the way back Wednesday to Statesville in North Carolina, the church bus carrying the members blew a tire, veered across a highway median and crashed into a sport utility vehicle and tractor-trailer, police said.
The wreck on Interstate 40 in northeastern Tennessee killed eight people, leaving the bus on its side next to the tractor-trailer, the wreckage extending across two lanes of traffic and partly into the median. Fourteen others were hurt, two in critical condition.
When Morrison was told about the crash, he feared the worst.
Then a pastor at the Front Street Baptist Church called late at night and broke the devastating news: His parents, Randy and Barbara Morrison, both 66 and married for nearly 50 years, were dead.
“I’m still processing it,” said Daniel Morrison, one of the couple’s five children. He said both had looked forward to the trip, having devoted so much to their church.
Morrison said his parents were always there for him — especially after his wife, Monica, died in December of a brain aneurysm. His parents stayed long hours at his house, helping him raise his 2-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter.
“You expect things to happen — you don’t expect them to happen in one year,” he said. “I know the Lord has a reason for everything, but I don’t know what it is yet.”
Six of the dead were members of the Statesville church, including Randy Morrison, who police said was driving the bus, and his wife, Barbara.
The National Transportation Safety Board isn’t sending investigators to Tennessee to probe the deadly crash. Nearly all of the board’s 400 employees have been furloughed because of the shutdown, including accident investigators.
The tight-knit group of seniors was on its annual road trip, following a tradition for members of the Young at Heart ministry to attend the Fall Jubilee in Gatlinburg. The event’s website described the gathering as “three days of singing, laughing and preaching” for “mature and senior believers.”
Inside the Statesville church on Wednesday evening, people cried and hugged each other. “We know God is in control and is able to heal,” Front Street Baptist associate pastor Rick Cruz said.