Ohio bus crash kills 6, injures 18 on I-70 in Licking County

By | November 15, 2023


ETNA – The Ohio Highway Patrol has identified the six people killed Tuesday in a fiery crash involving a charter bus, a tractor-trailer, another commercial vehicle and two passenger vehicles on westbound Interstate 70 in Licking County , about half a mile before the Route 310 Etna interchange.

The dead included three students on a charter bus: John W. Mosely, 18, and Katelyn N. Owens, 15, both of Mineral City; and Jeffery D. Worrell, 18, of Bolivar.

The other three people killed were a teacher and two chaperones who were accompanying the students in one of the two passenger vehicles involved in the accident. Those dead are: Dave Kennat, 56, of Navarre; Kristy Gaynor, 39, of Zoar; and Shannon Wigfield, 45, of Bolivar.

A total of 15 students and the bus driver were transported to area hospitals. The remaining students were taken to a reunification site in the commune of Etna.

The Ohio Highway Patrol Granville Post said the crash happened at 8:52 a.m. on I-70 west, about a half-mile before the Route 310 exit. All vehicles were heading west when a chain-reaction crash occurred, and at least three of the vehicles caught fire as a result of the crash, the patrol said.

The charter bus was occupied by a driver and 54 students and chaperones from local Tuscarawas Valley schools. In addition to the three students killed on the bus, 15 other students and the bus driver were transported to area hospitals. The remaining students were taken to a reunification site in the commune of Etna.

Of the two commercial vehicles involved, the driver of a tractor-trailer that appeared to have struck the rear of the bus was transported to OhioHealth Grant Medical Center downtown with non-life-threatening injuries. The other driver was treated and released at the scene, the patrol said.

Additionally, the patrol said the driver of the second passenger vehicle was also transported to an area hospital.

The National Transportation Safety Board will join the Highway Patrol in investigating the crash. The injured were transported to numerous area hospitals. Of those who reported injuries, OhioHealth said it treated five for minor injuries. Four were taken to Mount Carmel East, with one transferred to Nationwide Children’s Hospital. Mount Carmel Reynoldsburg treated and released three.

Tuscarawas Valley Local Schools, an Ohio school district in Zoarville, said Tuesday morning the bus was carrying students, teachers and chaperones, en route to the final day of the Ohio School Boards Association conference and that there may have been “serious injuries” to those on board.

As of 8:45 a.m. Tuesday, dozens of emergency personnel from Licking County and eastern Franklin County responded to the crash area on I-70 and area hospitals were put on alert. alert for what dispatchers described as a “mass casualty” incident.

I-70 reopens as authorities continue to investigate crash

At a news conference Tuesday morning at a rest stop on I-70, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said his prayers were with everyone involved in the crash and their families.

“It’s our worst nightmare when we have a bus full of kids involved in an accident and certainly the worst nightmare that families or a school can endure,” DeWine said.

Lt. Nate Dennis of the Ohio State Highway Patrol said the crash involved five vehicles and 18 injured people were evacuated from the bus.

Ohio Department of Transportation spokesman Matt Bruning said he expects a lengthy closure of I-70 in both directions while the crash investigation is underway.


Bus accident: afternoon update Tuesday 3 p.m.

Bus crash: Updated Tuesday afternoon from Governor DeWine and Ohio State Highway Patrol Lt. Nate Dennis.

DeWine spoke to the media again around 2:30 p.m., saying he went to the reunification center where he spoke with at least one mother picking up her child and other students and expressed sympathy. DeWine ordered flags to be flown at half-staff in Tuscarawas County, where the students were from, and at the Statehouse. He said the investigation into the accident would take some time, which Dennis confirmed. Additionally, Bruning said that I-70 sidewalk repairs will be needed on the westbound lanes of I-70 where the crash occurred due to the resulting fire and its impact on pavement. A construction crew is prepared to make these repairs as quickly as possible, but no immediate timeline was available for this work.

By about 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, the eastbound lanes of I-70 had reopened. Motorists were urged not to slow down to take photos or videos and to keep traffic moving to avoid another accident.

“My stomach hurts”: students from Tuscarawas Valley School, accompanying people on the bus

Tuscarawas Valley Superintendent Derek Varansky said on Facebook that “a charter bus carrying Tusky Valley students and chaperones en route to the Ohio School Boards Association (OSBA) conference in Columbus was involved in a very serious accident.

“Our understanding from law enforcement is that there may be multiple serious injuries and we are working to learn the details,” Varansky wrote. “Right now, our goal is to connect with our Tusky Valley families who had loved ones on the bus and provide support to our entire school community.”

Varansky said some of the students on the bus were members of a band that was going to perform at the OSBA conference.

On Tuesday evening, Varansky said that “the school will open tomorrow, but it will not be a normal day.”

A steady stream of vehicles stopped in the parking lot of Tuscarawas Valley Middle-High School Tuesday morning as parents came to pick up their grieving children. Staff members went to the vehicles, spoke with the drivers and then returned to the school to pick up their children.

“I’m sick. My stomach hurts,” mother Laurie Fragasse said when she went to pick up her daughter, Camrynn, just before noon.

Camrynn, an eighth grader, said she was scared and sad.

“I don’t really know how I feel right now,” she said.

Ohio School Boards Association conference in Columbus canceled in light of tragedy

The students traveled to the Ohio School Board Association’s annual convention held in Columbus. The event, which began Sunday and was scheduled to end Tuesday, includes speakers, a trade show and a student success exhibit, according to the OSBA website. The event was canceled on Tuesday, said a spokesperson for the association.

“Given this devastating news, we have canceled (the remainder of) our conference,” said a press release from the association. “Right now, our focus is on providing support to the Tuscarawas Valley. This includes providing grief counselors from our professional salon.”

Tusky Valley families reunited at Etna reunification site

By 2 p.m., nearly all of the students not transported to the hospital had reunited with their students at Etna United Methodist Church. A total of 34 students were taken there after the accident, said Don Hawkins, regional communications manager for the Red Cross of Central and Southern Ohio, whom Licking County emergency management contacted to acquire help.

“Whenever something like this happens, we work with the local EMA to help them,” Hawkins said.

Mount Carmel East Hospital, a Level 2 trauma center in Far East Columbus, also requested and received an additional 30 units of blood, he added.

“It’s heavy; it’s really heavy. It really hurts to see this happen to anyone, to children…especially during the holiday season,” Hawkins said. “Families are going to be devastated. Our thoughts are going to them. Three families are going to feel this way forever. It hurts.”

Shortly before 2 p.m., a Central Ohio Transit Authority bus arrived at the church with music equipment that was on board the charter bus involved in the crash. At that time, only 13 of 37 students at any given time had been picked up by their parents, said Sean Grady, Licking County EMA director.

Map of the accident site

Medical crews took crash victims to at least seven area hospitals, including Licking Memorial Hospital in Newark, Nationwide Children’s Hospital, OhioHealth Grant Medical Center and Mount Carmel East Hospital in Columbus, as well as as OhioHealth Pickerington Methodist Hospital.

The bus involved in the accident is from Pioneer Trails, a family-owned bus company based in Millersburg in Holmes County, in business for over 40 years. In a statement on Facebook, Pioneer Trails said it was “fully cooperating with authorities as we work to find the cause of the accident” and sends prayers to the victims and their families.

According to U.S. Department of Transportation inspections, the company has had one other accident involving injuries in the past 24 months. The company received a satisfactory rating, meaning records indicate no evidence of material noncompliance with safety requirements.

Mid State Systems, based in Hebron, Licking County, is the owner of the tractor-trailer involved in the crash. The company transports general cargo, paper and chemicals. U.S. Department of Transportation records show no incidents involving the company since 2017. Company officials could not be reached by The Dispatch for comment.

Dispatchers classified the incident as a “mass casualty incident, Level 3,” indicating 10 or more people may have been injured and there was a need for paramedics, fire crews and hospital preparation throughout the region. Casualties do not necessarily mean fatalities in the way dispatchers use them.

USA TODAY Network Ohio reporters Maria DeVito, Kent Mallett, Pam James and Nancy Molnar contributed to this report.

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