Three teenage students in a coach bus heading to a band performance and two parent chaperones and a teacher in an SUV were killed Tuesday morning in a fiery, five-vehicle wreck on Interstate 70 in central Ohio, officials said.
The bus – carrying high school band members from northeastern Ohio’s Tuscarawas Valley Local School District, according to school officials – and the SUV were part of the wreck that happened at 8:52 a.m. on I-70 in Etna, about 19 miles east of the students’ destination, Columbus, authorities said.
Details about the number of people injured varied. The Ohio State Highway Patrol said 18 – including 15 students and the bus driver – were taken to hospitals. The school district said 20 of its students were taken to hospitals.
The students who died were “bright lights full of life who lost their lives way too young,” Derek Varansky, the superintendent of the Tuscarawas Valley Local School District, told those gathered for a Tuesday night vigil in Zoarville, Ohio.
“Today began as an exciting day as our high school band would travel to Columbus to present at the Ohio School Boards Association conference –- a once in a lifetime event –- and then it quickly turned into the darkest day, one of the darkest days in our district’s history and the worst day of my life,” he said.
Killed were three teenagers on the bus – John W. Mosely, 18, of Mineral City, Ohio; Jeffery D. Worrell, 18, of Bolivar; and Katelyn N. Owens, 15, of Mineral City – and three people riding in another vehicle – Dave Kennat, 56, of Navarre; Kristy Gaynor, 39, of Zoar; and Shannon Wigfield, 45, of Bolivar, the Ohio State Highway Patrol said.
The adults who died were a teacher and two parent chaperones, Varansky said.
All six died at the scene, the highway patrol said.
The chain-reaction crash involved the bus, two commercial vehicles and two passenger vehicles, the highway patrol said. Besides the injured people from the bus, the drivers of one commercial vehicle and one private vehicle were taken to the hospital with injuries. The driver of the other commercial vehicle was treated at the scene, authorities said.
Jennifer Homendy, the chair of the National Transportation Safety Board, which will investigate the crash, said there is conflicting information about the sequence of events, but the coach bus and an SUV that was following it came upon a “traffic queue” from an earlier crash. A tractor-trailer was behind the SUV, and two other vehicles involved were in front of the bus, Homendy said at a news conference in Columbus.
A tractor-trailer struck the coach bus, according to the highway patrol.
“Let me just say that this is our worst nightmare when we have a bus full of children involved in a crash, the worst nightmare that families can endure,” Gov. Mike DeWine told reporters Tuesday morning.
Tragedy is hard to describe, governor says
Earlier, Veransky wrote on the district website that “a charter bus carrying Tusky Valley students and chaperones on the way to the Ohio School Boards Association conference in Columbus was involved in a very serious accident.”
“Right now, our focus is on getting in touch with our Tusky Valley families who had loved ones on the bus and providing support to our entire school community,” he wrote. “Our Trojan family is strong, and it will take that strength and love to get throughout these coming challenging days.”
DeWine said flags on government buildings at the capital and in Tuscarawas County would fly at half-staff.
“This tragedy is just, it’s really kind of hard to describe,” the governor said. “I’d like to express my deepest sympathy on behalf of the people in the state of Ohio to all to the families, to everyone who has been injured, to everyone whose family members died. This is just a tragedy that no one can hardly ever imagine.”
Christine Varwig, president of the Ohio School Boards Association, posted on Facebook: “Words cannot express the profound sorrow and grief we feel at the tragic loss of your students in the recent school bus accident. They were tragically taken far too soon.
“Our hearts ache for the unimaginable pain you must be enduring right now. We share in your grief and offer our deepest condolences during this incredibly difficult time.”
New York community recently lost 2 teachers in highway bus crash
Nearly two months ago, two longtime teachers were killed and multiple students injured when their charter bus tumbled down a 50-foot ravine on Interstate 84 in Orange County, New York, officials said.
Preliminary information suggested a faulty front tire may have contributed to the September 21 crash.
The bus was carrying 40 students from Farmingdale High School on Long Island and four adults, the New York State Police said. The students, who were part of the school’s marching band, were on their way to Pennsylvania for a band camp event.
CNN’s David J. Lopez and Steve Almasy contributed to this report.
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