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Church bus crashes, killing 8

By Associated Press
Published October 14, 2003

TALLULAH, La. - A church bus taking senior citizens on a tour of historical sites slammed into a cotton-hauling tractor-trailer on the shoulder of a highway Monday, killing eight people and injuring seven, state police said.

The bus driver survived the wreck and told investigators he fell asleep at the wheel before crashing into the truck, authorities said. Someone on the bus yelled, awakening him just before impact, said state police Trooper Julie Lewis.

Fifteen people were on the bus when it crashed around 11 a.m. on Interstate 20 in northeastern Louisiana. The truck driver, who had pulled onto the shoulder to check his brakes, suffered minor head and neck injuries.

Thirteen passengers and two drivers were headed toward Vicksburg, Miss., on the second day of what was to have been a 16-day trip sponsored by their Baptist church in Texas, Lewis said.

Lewis said each passenger paid $960 for the trip, sponsored by the First Baptist Church of Eldorado, Texas, a town of about 2,000 people about 160 miles northwest of San Antonio.

Lewis said the injured were taken to several hospitals in Mississippi and Louisiana, and at least one was injured critically. The bus driver, Kenneth Thomas, 66, of Eldorado suffered moderate injuries. Identities of the passengers were being withheld while families were notified.

The bus and the truck remained upright on the side of the road after the crash, but the front end of the bus was demolished - pushed up under the rear of the 18-wheeler's trailer, its engine driven back against the steering wheel by the impact.

Emergency crews said no passenger was ejected but some were thrown partly out of the open side of the bus.

Traffic in the eastbound lanes of I-20 was shut down for about 20 miles between Tallulah and Waverly. One lane was opened after 5 p.m. Monday.

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