ETNA, Ohio (AP/WJW) — Pastors and grief counselors will be on hand Wednesday at Tuscarawas Valley Local High School as students and staff try to cope in the aftermath of a deadly crash that claimed the lives of three marching band students, two chaperones and a teacher.
The superintendent said the district didn’t cancel school because they wanted to make sure there was a place where everyone could come together.
Meanwhile, officials with the National Transportation Safety Board are still trying to piece together what led up to the fiery crash on I-70. Investigators will be back on the scene today and plan to provide a public update around 4 p.m.
**See LIVE updates on the situation at the bottom of this page**
On Tuesday, a charter bus filled with high school students was rear-ended by a semitruck on I-70, just outside of Columbus, leaving six people dead and 18 injured, officials said.
Five vehicles were involved in the crash, including a Pioneer Trails charter bus carrying students and chaperones from Tusky Valley.
Three passengers on the bus, which was carrying a driver and 54 students and chaperones, were pronounced dead at the scene, the Ohio State Highway Patrol said Tuesday night. They were identified as John W. Mosley, 18, of Mineral City; Jeffery D. Worrell, 18, of Bolivar; and Katelyn N. Owens, 15, of Mineral City.
The cause of the crash is under investigation. Officials say a preliminary report on the chain of events could take at least 10 days.
“They had approached a traffic queue. That resulted from an earlier crash on I-70. And a tractor-trailer approach behind the SUV. We have heard conflicting information about the sequence of events so that’s something we’ll have to determine,” said NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy.
“This is our worst nightmare, when we have a bus full of children involved in a crash,” Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said during a news conference at the scene. “Prayers go out to the families, everyone who was on the bus.”
A total of 15 students and the bus driver were brought to area hospitals, while other students were taken to a reunification site, officials said.
All three people in one of the passenger vehicles involved were also pronounced dead at the scene, the highway patrol said. They were identified as Dave Kennat, 56, of Navarre; Kristy Gaynor, 39, of Zoar; and Shannon Wigfield, 45, of Bolivar.
The driver of the other passenger vehicle was also taken to a hospital. Of the drivers of the commercial vehicles involved, one was taken to a hospital with injuries that were not considered life-threatening and the other was treated at the scene, the highway patrol said.
All of the vehicles were traveling westbound on Interstate 70 in Licking County, about 26 miles east of Columbus, about 9 a.m. when the chain-reaction crash happened. At least three vehicles subsequently caught fire, the highway patrol said.
The bus was carrying the students and chaperones to an Ohio School Boards Association conference in Columbus, Tuscarawas Valley Superintendent Derek Varansky said.
The conference was canceled after organizers learned of the crash, said spokesperson Jeff Chambers.
In a written statement, Pioneer Trails offered its condolences to those affected by the crash and said it was cooperating with authorities, but would have no further comment pending the investigation.
The Red Cross sent 30 units of blood to a hospital in the Mount Carmel Health System to help victims, said Marita Salkowski, regional communications director for the American Red Cross of Central and Southern Ohio.
Governor DeWine has ordered all flags in Tuscarawas and Stark counties to be flown at half-staff in honor of the lives of those killed.
The Ohio collision was the second recent fatal crash in the U.S. involving high school students on a charter bus. In September, two people were killed and several others injured when a charter bus carrying high school students to band camp veered off a New York highway.