March 4, 2024

Six people were killed and at least 20 others were injured after a charter bus carrying students from a high school was rear-ended by a tractor-trailer on a central Ohio highway on Tuesday morning, according to county and state highway officials.

The chain-reaction crash, which involved five vehicles, took place just before 9 a.m. on Interstate 70 near State Route 310 in Etna Township, outside Columbus, Lt. Nathan Dennis of the Ohio State Highway Patrol said at a news conference near the scene on Tuesday.

Three of the victims were students at the Tuscarawas Valley Local Schools: John W. Mosely, 18; Jeffery D. Worrell, 18; and Katelyn N. Owens, 15. The others who died were a high school teacher, Dave Kennat, 56, and two parents who had been chaperoning: Kristy Gaynor, 39; and Shannon Wigfield, 45.

On Tuesday night, a crowd gathered for a vigil on a grassy field as Derek Varansky, the superintendent of Tuscarawas Valley Local Schools, read aloud the names of the victims.

“There are no words for the sheer magnitude of loss and grief felt by all of us,” Dr. Varansky said. As each name was read, mourners cried aloud in the background, watching as six candles were lit.

Three of the people who were killed were riding in the bus, which had been transporting 54 students, and the three others were in another vehicle, Sean Grady, the director of emergency management agency in Licking County, said in a text.

Dr. Varansky said at the vigil that 18 students who were injured had been released from a hospital, and that two other students remained hospitalized on Tuesday night with non-life-threatening injuries.

At least three of the vehicles caught fire because of the crash, the authorities said, adding that the cause remained under investigation.

John Wieber, the deputy director of Licking County’s emergency management agency, said that he had seen mangled bits of steel scattered on the road on Tuesday afternoon as the authorities cleared clumps of jagged debris.

One vehicle was a charter bus that was taking students and chaperones from a school in eastern Ohio to the Ohio School Boards Association conference in Columbus, according to Dr. Varansky.

Etna Township is a city with more than 18,000 residents in Licking County in the central part of the state.

“It is our worst nightmare to have a bus full of children involved in such a terrible crash,” Gov. Mike DeWine of Ohio said on the social media platform X on Tuesday.

Mr. DeWine ordered that flags be flown at half-staff at public buildings and grounds in Tuscarawas and Stark Counties and at several state facilities through Saturday.

The Licking County Emergency Management Agency urged drivers to avoid Interstate 70 in the area of State Route 310 and said that both directions were closed. The Ohio Department of Transportation said the closure could last hours.

Lieutenant Dennis said the charter bus was from Pioneer Trails.

“Pioneer is fully cooperating with the authorities as we work to find the cause of the accident,’’ the company said on Facebook. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to all of those impacted by this accident.”

Cameras from the Ohio Department of Transportation showed plumes of smoke over the scene.

Eduardo Medina contributed reporting.

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