STATESVILLE, N.C. - Front Street Baptist Church pastor Rick Cruz confirmed in a news conference Thursday that 12 members of the church remain hospitalized and two are in critical condition, following a bus crash near Knoxville Wednesday that killed six people.
The 12 church members are among the 14 people inititially taken to University of Tennessee Medical Center. According to Gannett partner station WBIR in Knoxville, two people were discharged from the hospital as of late Thursday morning. Seven remain in serious condition and three are now in stable condition, in addition to the two people in critical condition.
The church canceled its noon news conference Thursday, saying there was no new information to report on its end.
Pastor Cruz's morning news conference remarks lasted no longer than five minutes, and he did not take questions. He told members of the news media that he would continue to provide updates, as they become available.
He thanked the community for its outpouring of support and said, "Even in this difficult time, we do rejoice in the fact that six of our loved ones are in Heaven with the Lord right now. Jesus Christ gave his life for each one of us on the cross, so that we may have everlasting life. So that's the hope that we hold onto, and that's the truth that we hold onto each and every day. We thank you, we thank you for your prayers and we thank you for all of your support."
Flowers and wreaths adorned trees in front of Front Street Baptist Church Thursday morning, where church members, community members and Red Cross volunteers converged Wednesday night during the church's weekly service. They commemorated the six church members who were among the eight killed in the crash.
The church said the bus was carrying a group of seniors called the Young at Hearts, who were traveling back from a conference--"Fall Jubilee"--in Gatlinberg when the accident happened at 2 p.m. Wednesday. The Tennessee State Highway Patrol said the bus was traveling eastbound on I-40 near mile marker 423 when a left tire blew out.
The driver lost control, and the bus crossed the median. That is where it struck a tractor trailer and clipped an SUV heading westbound.
Highway Patrol said the tractor trailer caught on fire immediately, and the bus overturned. Eight people died--six people from the bus, the tractor trailer driver and one passenger in the SUV. A total of 14 people were taken to the University of Tennessee Medical Center.
WBIR said all lanes on I-40 near the accident site have been reopened, as of Thursday morning.
WFMY News 2 will continue to provide updates on the web, on Twitter and in its afternoon and evening newscasts.