(Adds eight people listed in critical condition, church group returning from trip)
By Tim Ghianni
NASHVILLE, Tenn., Oct 2 (Reuters) - At least eight people were killed and eight critically injured Wednesday when a tire blew out on a bus carrying passengers from a church outing and it crossed over the median on a Tennessee interstate, crashing into a sport-utility vehicle and a truck, officials said.
Six of the dead were on the bus, which was from Statesville, North Carolina, and one each were from the SUV and the tractor trailer truck, highway patrol spokeswoman Dalya Qualls said. A total of 14 people were injured, she said.
The University of Tennessee Medical Center was treating the eight people listed in critical condition, two in serious condition and two who were stable, spokeswoman Susan Wyatt said. Two other injured people were being driven to the medical center, she said.
All of the patients being treated from the crash at the medical center were adults, Wyatt said.
The crash also forced the closure of Interstate 40 in both directions near its connection with Interstate 81 about 40 miles east of Knoxville, the highway patrol said.
Qualls said a preliminary investigation indicated that the bus was traveling east on I-40 when the left front tire blew and it crossed the median, clipping a Chevrolet Tahoe that was traveling west and continuing on to collide with the tractor trailer.
The highway patrol said it appeared there were 18 people on the bus, three in the SUV and one in the tractor trailer.
Wyatt said the bus was carrying passengers from the Front Street Baptist Church in Statesville, who were returning from a day trip to Gatlinburg, Tennessee. A church representative could not be reached immediately for comment.
Traffic was being diverted in both directions and the roadway was expected to remain closed until late on Wednesday night, the highway patrol said.
Wednesday's crash was just the latest involving passenger buses. Three people were killed and 26 injured in July when the driver of a bus returning from a church summer camp in Michigan to an Indianapolis church said the brakes failed as the bus exited an interstate highway. (Reporting by Tim Ghianni and Mary Wisniewski; Editing by David Bailey, Diane Craft and Carol Bishopric)