At least six people were killed and 18 injured Tuesday in a “very serious” crash involving two semi-trucks, a bus carrying students and two passenger vehicles on an Ohio highway, according to local authorities.
Three of those killed were students from Tuscarawas Valley Local Schools, who were on the bus headed to a conference, and three others were in one of the passenger cars, Ohio State Highway Patrol said in a statement Tuesday evening.
All six victims were pronounced dead on the scene, while 18 others, including 15 students, were transported to local hospitals.
The crash happened just after 9 a.m. on Interstate 70, near state Road 310 in Etna Township in Licking County, a community of about 180,000 located 15 miles east of downtown Columbus.
All five vehicles were traveling westbound on I-70 when the chain-reaction crash occurred, the highway patrol said, adding at least three of the vehicles caught fire because of the crash.
The deceased have been identified as Katelyn N. Owens, 15, John W. Mosely, 18, Jeffery D. Worrell, 18, Kristy Gaynor, 39, Shannon Wigfield, 45, and Dave Kennat, 56.
“The number of fatalities will probably go up,” Sean Grady, director of the Licking County Emergency Management Agency, said earlier Tuesday.
The charter bus was carrying one driver and 54 students and chaperones, the highway patrol said. Earlier, Grady told the Post there were 52 people on the bus.
“It is our worst nightmare to have a bus full of children involved in such a terrible crash, and it is certainly the worst nightmare that families and schools can endure,” Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine wrote on social media site X.
John Wieber, the deputy director of Licking County Emergency Management, told The Post that a reunification center has been set up for passengers and their families. “Uninjured passengers were sent to a local church to meet with their families,” he said.
Reports of the crash came in at 8:52 a.m., according to the highway patrol.
The charter bus was carrying Tuscarawas Valley students and their chaperones to an Ohio School Boards Association conference in Columbus, according to the association and the district’s superintendent. Authorities are still trying to determine what led to the accident. Grady, citing 911 call records, said it appeared “somebody” probably made an illegal U-turn, though he wouldn’t specify who that was. That may have triggered one of the vehicles to hit the brakes, leading to the crash.
The bus was operated by Pioneer Trails, a family-owned company that has been in business since 1984. They are cooperating with authorities to investigate the cause of the accident, the company wrote in a statement on Facebook.
“Pioneer Trails can confirm that there was an incident Tuesday morning with one of our buses,” the statement said. “As this is an ongoing investigation, there will be no further comments.”
The school board association canceled the rest of its conference and is making grief counselors available to those already at the event, according to a statement. The school district posted on its Facebook page that it would hold a prayer vigil Tuesday evening.
“We understand from law enforcement that there may be multiple serious injuries,” district superintendent Derek Varansky said in a separate post, calling it a “very serious” collision. “Right now, our focus is on getting in touch with our Tusky Valley families who had loved ones on the bus and providing support to our entire school community.”