By Tim Ghianni
NASHVILLE, Tennessee (Reuters) - Eight people were killed on Wednesday when a tire blew out on a bus carrying passengers from a church outing and it crossed over the median on a Tennessee interstate and crashed into a sport-utility vehicle and a truck, officials said.
Six people were killed on the bus, which was from Statesville, North Carolina. The crash also killed one person in the SUV and one person in the tractor trailer truck, highway patrol spokeswoman Dalya Qualls said. A total of 14 people were injured, eight critically, authorities said.
The crash also forced the closure of Interstate 40 in both directions near its connection with Interstate 81 about 40 miles east of Knoxville, the highway patrol said.
The crash caused the bus to overturn and the driver's cab in the tractor trailer was engulfed in flames, said Sergeant Bill Miller, a highway patrol spokesman.
"This is an extremely horrific event," Miller said.
The bus was carrying about 18 people from the "Young at Heart" group from the Front Street Baptist Church in Statesville, who were returning from a day trip to Gatlinburg, Tennessee.
"Several went on with the Lord," said church pastor Rick Cruz. "We do appreciate all the prayers that have been given, and the community's caring concern in this time of difficulty."
The University of Tennessee Medical Center in Knoxville was treating the eight people listed in critical condition as well as two in serious condition and four who were stable, spokeswoman Susan Wyatt said.
All of the patients being treated from the crash at the medical center were adults, Wyatt said.
Traffic was being diverted in both directions and the roadway was expected to remain closed until late on Wednesday night, the highway patrol said.
Wednesday's crash was the latest involving passenger buses. Three people were killed and 26 injured in July when the driver of a bus returning from a church summer camp in Michigan to an Indianapolis church said the brakes failed as the bus exited an interstate highway.
Three people, including a pastor and his pregnant wife, were killed and 26 were injured in July in Indiana when the brakes on their bus failed as they returned from a church camp.
In April, a charter bus crashed near Dallas, killing two people and injuring dozens. In March, a bus carrying a university women's lacrosse team crashed on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, killing the driver and the team's pregnant coach. The other 19 passengers were not seriously injured.
In February, seven people were killed and dozens more injured when a tour bus returning to Mexico from a Southern California ski resort crashed on a mountain road. Nine people were killed last December when a charter bus skidded off an icy Oregon mountain highway and crashed down an embankment.
(Reporting by Tim Ghianni, John Peragine and Mary Wisniewski; Editing by David Bailey, Diane Craft, Carol Bishopric and Lisa Shumaker)