Church bus crash survivor talks about wreck

Nine people remain in the hospital after last week's crash on I-40.

Investigators say the front tire of a church bus failed, then it crossed the median into oncoming traffic and slammed into an SUV, then a tractor trailer.

That wreck last Wednesday in Jefferson County killed eight people and sent 14 others to the hospital.

Tuesday, 10News had a chance to visit with 78-year-old Norma Hellard at her room in UT Medical Center, where recovery is coming with a lot of support from friends, family and complete strangers.

"Time's not real right now. It seems like it was yesterday but really it's been a week," said Hellard.

A week ago Norma Hellard was headed home on a bus to Statesville, North Carolina, with her church group after a retreat to Gatlinburg.

"I had my book. I had been reading and I was sound asleep. I heard the noise and I could hear the screeching and I felt the fishtailing of the bus. Flying through the air and landing right on top of another person. And there were three of us I think that were left on the bus. Everybody else was thrown clear. I remember being on the bus and remember the smoke and the fumes and being afraid that it was going to catch fire," she recalled.

Crews rescued Hellard. The impact broke five of her ribs, fractured bones throughout her lower body, and killed six members of her church group.

"And we had all had such a wonderful time, excuse me, in Gatlinburg at the Jubilee Conference. And heard beautiful music and heard wonderful sermons. You know, maybe that was getting us ready for this," she said.

Hellard says countless people have visited her, including the parents of 24-year-old Trent Roberts who was killed when the bus hit the SUV he was riding in.

"She talked about what a fine young man her son was and how proud she was of him. And she knew how distraught all of us must be," said Hellard.

On the other side of Knoxville Tuesday, the group Random Acts of Flowers prepared a special gift for Hellard and other survivors of the crash. The charity recycles flowers from other events like weddings to brighten the spirits of hospital patients.

"Seeing the way we really do turn trash into treasure. Most of what we use to make our bouquets was headed for the trash," said Sage Morgan.

One particular bouquet was delivered to Hellard's room. And in a not-so-random act, the charity chose to use blooms donated by the Roberts gamily, re-using the flowers from his memorial service.

"It's a little more personal. It's a tragedy that's happened. It's a tragedy that's happened in our state that everyone's been touched by. And so we're able to make that connection," explained Morgan.

Now the blooms used to brighten a mournful ceremony celebrate the health of a fortunate survivor.

"It makes them very special. It sure does. I think no matter where we are or what we're doing, God's in control. It doesn't matter what we think. It's God," said Hellard.

She says there's a chance she'll be able to move to a rehab center back home in Statesville, North Carolina in the next couple of days.


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