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'The darkest day': Tusky Valley community mourns 3 students, 3 adults killed in fiery crash on I-70

Red balloons hover over a crowd at the Tuscarawas Valley Middle-High School football stadium.
J. Nungesser
Ideastream Public Media
Tuscarawas Valley Middle-High School students comfort one another as they walk across the football field in remembrance of their peers. Members of the band were headed to the Ohio State School Boards Association conference Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2023, when their bus was rear-ended by a semi-truck, causing a fatal multi-vehicle collision.

The Tuscarawas County community is in mourning after a fatal fiery crash killed six and injured dozens Tuesday morning.

Thousands gathered for a vigil at the Tuscarawas Valley Middle-High School football stadium at 7 p.m.

“In a stadium that’s usually full of excitement and loud noises, tonight it’s silent. It’s a dark day in our district,” Superintendent Derek Varansky said to the crowd of thousands of people. “We lost three students in the accident. Students who were bright lights, full of life, and who lost their lives way too young.”

Two senior students and one sophomore were killed in the crash, he said. Additionally, two parent chaperones and one Tusky Valley teacher who had been following the bus together in a car were also killed in the accident.

“It quickly turned into the darkest day, and one of the darkest days in our district’s history, and the worst day of my life,” Varansky said.

Tuscarawas Valley Local Schools Superintendent Derek Varansky speaks into a microphone. Two people stand behind a black covered table lighting six white candles.
J. Nungesser
Ideastream Public Media
Tuscarawas Valley Local Schools Superintendent Derek Varansky speaks during a vigil as teachers light candles Tuesday evening, Nov. 14, 2023.

All six victims were pronounced dead at the scene, according to an Ohio State Highway Patrol press release.

The deceased were identified as John W. Mosely, 18, of Mineral City; Jeffery D. Worrell, 18, of Bolivar; Katelyn N. Owens, 15, of Mineral City; Dave Kennat, 56, of Navarre; Kristy Gaynor, 39, of Zoar, and Shannon Wigfield, 45, of Bolivar, according to the press release.

Additionally, 20 injured students were transported to five hospitals in the Columbus area, Varansky added. Two of the students remain hospitalized in serious condition with non-life-threatening injuries. The other 18 have been treated and released, Varansky said.

The students were riding in a charter bus on their way to perform at the Ohio School Boards Association conference in the Columbus area when the bus was rear-ended by a semi-truck, according to the release.

The accident was a “chain-reaction crash” between the charter bus, two commercial vehicles and two passenger vehicles, according to the release. At least three of the vehicles caught fire following the crash.

As teachers lit a candle for each of the six victims and Varansky announced their names to the crowd, sobs could be heard throughout the stands.

Pastors and counselors met with students, parents and community members on the field following the vigil. Students wearing letterman jackets and other Tusky Valley apparel hugged each other, offered condolences and shared memories.

Red balloons hover over a crowd at a football stadium.
J. Nungesser
Ideastream Public Media
The Tuscarawas Valley Local School District held a candlelight vigil Tuesday night for community members to honor three students, two chaperones and a teacher who were killed in a multi-vehicle crash that morning, Nov. 14, 2023.

Senior Cole Clements said he was still in shock after hearing the news about his classmates, Mosely and Worrell.

“It’s super sad, obviously. I don’t think any of us was expecting this to happen and no one ever would,” Clements said. “I think it’s good that our community came together to help each other to lean on, and just help all of the families that are in need.”

“They were both really happy all the time, just being energetic in class,” senior Logan McKinney added.

Worrell was known by his nickname, JD.

He was remembered as a vibrant member of the school’s speech and debate team and played the voracious, human-eating plant, Audrey II, in the Tusky Valley Theatre production of “Little Shop of Horrors” last year.

He also served on the Hope Squad, a student organization that helps peers navigate mental health challenges, Clements added.

“He was always full of joy, you know, always brought happiness to school,” Clements said. “He was bringing hope and helping kids when they needed help and when they were in crisis.”

Students also remembered Dave Kennat, a math teacher and adviser to the school’s ski and board club.

“I always loved him in class. He was always super energetic, made class fun. Really unfortunate that he’s not going to be there anymore,” senior John Leffler said. “Really just an easy guy to talk to. Really sucks he’s gone.”

Tuscarawas Valley Middle-High School seniors Cole Clements, Logan McKinney and John Leffler talk to Ideastream Public Media reporter Anna Huntsman.
J. Nungesser
Ideastream Public Media
Tuscarawas Valley Middle-High School seniors Cole Clements, Logan McKinney and John Leffler share their memories of classmates who died Tuesday in a multi-vehicle crash.

The school district will be open for classes tomorrow. Superintendent Varansky said he did not want students to be at home alone.

“Our doors will be open,” he said.

The crash occurred on I-70 near state Route 310 at 8:52 a.m, according to a news release. The state highway patrol is still investigating the incident.

Anna Huntsman covers Akron, Canton and surrounding communities for Ideastream Public Media.