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6 dead after semitruck hits bus carrying Tuscarawas Valley students causing multi-vehicle fatalities

Video camera image of emergency vehicles and smoke on a divided highway road.
Ohio Department of Transportation
The accident occurred shortly before 9 a.m. on Interstate 70 West in Licking County, about 26 miles east of Columbus.

A charter bus filled with high school students was rear-ended by a semitruck on an Ohio highway Tuesday morning, leaving six people dead and 18 others injured, officials said.

Five vehicles were involved in the crash, including a Pioneer Trails charter bus carrying students and chaperones from the Tuscarawas Valley Local School District in Northeast Ohio, said Licking County Emergency Management Agency Director Sean Grady.

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. Mosely, 18, of Mineral City; Jeffery D. Worrell, 18, of Bolivar; and Katelyn N. Owens, 15, of Mineral City.

“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 bus was carrying the students and chaperones to an Ohio School Boards Association conference in Columbus, Tuscarawas Valley Superintendent Derek Varansky said.

“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,” Varansky said in a post on the district's website.

The student band had planned to perform at the end of the meeting, as longtime Tuscarawas County Board of Education member Sally Green was set to be voted as OSBA president. The conference was canceled after organizers learned of the crash, said spokesperson Jeff Chambers.

The district is holding a prayer vigil at the stadium Tuesday at 7 p.m.

"Pastors and community counselors will be available. Everyone is welcome," a text to district families said.

At Tuscarawas Valley Middle-High School, students were permitted to leave early on Tuesday.

Becky Ragon picked up her seventh grade daughter and her friend.

"It's just been a hard day for the students, and a lot of them have had a hard time knowing what's going on and lots of crying," Ragon said. "And obviously everyone is very devastated and heartbroken."

Student Hailey Jackson, whose friend was in the accident, also left school early. She doesn't know how they are doing. She found out about the accident because other students were texting kids who were on the bus.

Jacob Cross was at the school to pick up his kids. He said his son, who was on the bus and safe, was being picked up by the boy's mother.

"It's a very crushing feeling to know that there are going to be people without their family members tonight," he said.

"There's a lot of children who are just not willing to get back on another bus," Cross said, "and I don't blame them."

Parents and law enforcement gather in front of Tuscarawas Valley Middle-High School.
Leigh Barr
Ideastream Public Media
Parents picked their kids up early from Tuscarawas Valley Middle-High School on Nov. 14, 2023.

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 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 I-70 in Licking County, about 26 miles (42 kilometers east) of Columbus, about 9 a.m. when the chain-reaction crash happened, and at least three subsequently caught fire as a result of the crash, the highway patrol said. The cause of the crash is under investigation. A team of National Transportation Safety Board investigators was headed to the scene.

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. A center was set up at a United Methodist Church in Etna where bus passengers not in need of medical attention could go to contact loved ones, she said.

Numerous emergency workers responded to the crash scene, and Ohio Department of Transportation cameras from the area showed smoke coming from the crash site. Police officers were blocking nearby entrance ramps to I-70 East and West, increasing traffic along the road leading to the interstate.

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.

Additional reporting from Ideastream Public Media's Leigh Barr.

Updated: November 14, 2023 at 8:25 PM EST
This story was updated to include the names released by the Ohio State Highway Patrol of those who were killed in Tuesday's crash.
Abigail Bottar covers Akron, Canton, Kent and the surrounding areas for Ideastream Public Media.