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8 dead, 14 hurt in Tennessee interstate highway wreck

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(CNN) — Eight people died when a bus carrying church members blew a front tire, crossed the grassy median of Interstate 40 in eastern Tennessee, clipped an SUV and slammed into a tractor-trailer before overturning, officials said Wednesday.

Six people on the eastbound bus were killed, along with one of three occupants of the SUV and the tractor-trailer driver, the Tennessee Highway Patrol said in a statement after the 2 p.m. incident. The tractor-trailer caught fire.

There were 18 people on the bus, which was from Statesville, North Carolina, officials said. It was carrying senior adults who attend Front Street Baptist Church in Statesville.

Fourteen people were injured, 12 of whom were transported, the highway patrol said.

The wreck occurred in Jefferson County about 40 miles east of Knoxville on Interstate 40 westbound near mile marker 423, said Tennessee Department of Safety spokeswoman Dalya Qualls.

The bus, traveling east on I-40, struck the westbound tractor-trailer and a Chevrolet Tahoe.

The University of Tennessee Medical Center was treating 11 victims, according to hospital spokeswoman Susan Wyatt. Four of the 11 patients were transported via helicopter, she said.

Wyatt said the church group was returning home from a trip to Gatlinburg, Tennessee.

Dionne Stutts, wife of Front Street Baptist senior pastor Tim Stutts, said the church did not have specifics on anyone traveling on the bus.

The passengers were on their way back to Statesville from a fall jubilee in Gatlinburg, Stutts told CNN.

Her husband was devastated by the news, Stutts said. He and the church youth minister were traveling to Tennessee.

They were asking for prayers.

A photo from CNN affiliate WVLT showed smoke rising from the scene and debris along the highway.

I-40 was closed, and traffic was being rerouted, according to state transportation officials. The scene was expected to be cleared by 9 p.m. ET.

The wreck occurred near the I-40 split with Interstate 81.

From Drew Iden

CNN’s Mayra Cuevas and Phil Gast contributed to this report.

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