(WBIR-Knoxville) Monday morning the Tennessee Highway Patrol announced the final results of an exhaustive investigation into a deadly crash last October that killed eight people on Interstate 40 in Jefferson County.
Investigators determined the crash was caused by the failure of a tire on the front-left wheel of a bus carrying members of Statesville, NC, church.
The blown tire caused the bus to veer across the median and smash into a transfer truck and a SUV. The crash killed the driver of the truck, a passenger in the SUV, and six people in the bus. The impact injured 14 others.
"This event was one of those things that happen in your career that you remember where you were and what you were doing when you were notified about the crash," said Col. Tracy Trott with the Tennessee Highway Patrol. "This crash was not the fault of any one person."
The church bus was carrying members of the "Young at Heart" group from Front Street Baptist Church back to Statesville after a retreat in Gatlinburg. Survivors of the crash who were on the bus told WBIR 10 News they heard the tire blow just before the vehicle lost control.
As for why the tire failed, THP investigators determined it suffered internal damage after hitting something during the trip.
"It was the result of some sort of impact that occurred to the tire, most likely during the last leg of the trip," said Lt. Andy Shelton with THP's Critical Incident Response Team.
Investigators said the impact could have been anything from a pothole to a curb, but clearly stated there was no way to tell exactly what the tire struck or when the impact occurred. THP offered a rough estimate of an impact sometime within 50 miles prior to the crash.
"Then with heat build-up on the roadway, after a certain period of time on the roadway, that causes the tire failure," said Randall Massengill, the THP investigator who lead the examination of the tire.
Investigators said the tire did not have any manufacturer defects and also was not retread.
A main point of emphasis during Monday's announcement is there was nothing the driver of the bus could have or should have done differently to avoid the crash.
"This was truly just a tragic crash that took eight lives and injured many others. It's one of those incidents that impact the victims and all the first responders for years to come," said Trott. "We tasked local troopers, members of our Critical Incident Response Team and Criminal Investigation Division to conduct a thorough investigation that found no evidence of impairment on any drivers involved in the crash, no evidence that the drivers were distracted and no evidence that the bus was not well-maintained."
One of the first people to arrive at the crash was Trooper Erik Raines. He is one of three THP troopers who received a "life saver" award for their response at the crash scene. Raines said he hopes the investigation's findings can provide some level of emotional healing to those involved in the crash.
"I still pray for all of the victims and their families. I hope after today they can have some closure and they have some answers. And I'll continue to pray for them the rest of my life and always feel a connection with them," said Raines.
"This tragedy was the result of blunt force impact to the front tire that weakened its internal structure and caused the tire's failure," said Trott in a statement. "There was no evidence of any pre-existing condition to the tire," he added. "It was an accident and we continue to keep those affected in our thoughts."