UPDATE: 5 dead, 35 injured in Texas church bus crash
The chartered bus was carrying 40 teenagers along with counselors destined for a church youth camp in Ruston, La. The students on the bus were from Metro Church in Garland, Texas. Metro is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention and the Baptist General Convention of Texas.
According to Trooper Rob White of the Texas Department of Public Safety, "From preliminary reports [the bus] began to weave for some unknown reason and struck a concrete pillar."
White told CNN there were no skid marks and no indications that the bus driver attempted to stop.
Eight helicopters were dispatched to the scene to evacuate the most seriously injured. Survivors were transferred to the First Baptist Church Canton, Texas. One of the victims was so badly injured authorities first assumed the young person was dead.
The bus was traveling east at 9:15 a.m. when it hit a bridge pillar over the highway near the Van Zandt County line, authorities said. The impact peeled back the metal from the side of the bus. Killed in the crash was the bus driver, Ernest Carter, 51; Lindsay Kimmons, 16; Michael Freeman, 12; Amanda Maxwell, 13; and Michelle Chaney, 14.
Authorities said Carter had a lengthy criminal record, including several driving offenses. The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the crash.
Across the SBC, leaders offered words of condolence to the families of those impacted by the crash.
Morris H. Chapman, president and chief executive officer of the SBC Executive Committee, offered words of sympathy and support to the victims of the tragedy.
"The scriptures teach us to weep with those who are weeping, and we are weeping today with the bereaved families, and the Metro Church pastor and members," Chapman said. "Along with them, our hearts are torn. We are profoundly grieved by the deaths of these young people, and the many who were injured.
"The Southern Baptist Convention is an affiliation of numerous churches -- but more than that, it is a big family," Chapman added. "As family, we pledge our ongoing prayers for the injured young people, the families of those taken by death, and for the whole body of believers at Metro Church. We appreciate that this is a tragedy that only the grace of God can fully comfort; and we will pray that His comfort will cover them over."
SBC President Jack Graham told Baptist Press the hearts and prayers of all Southern Baptists "go out to the families of the victims and those who are injured."
"This is the time of year that thousands of our teenagers are on the highways traveling to mission destinations and camps," Graham said. "It reminds us of our need to constantly pray for one another and to pray for our teenagers as they travel."
"We know that God is sovereign," Graham added. "His comfort and the promises of God's word will be very real to the families."
"We look forward to ministering to these families any way we can and joining hearts and hands to hold them up before the father in Heaven."
Charles Wade, executive director of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, also offered "heartfelt sympathies to the church and families."
"We were able to stop and pray for the families at the Hispanic Baptist convention meeting last night in El Paso," Wade said. "Our hearts go out to them during this tragic time. The BGCT will do all we can to serve the church and walk with them through this event."
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: REMINDERS, WRECKAGE, COMFORTING ONE ANOTHER, and RESCUE EFFORTS.