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Continued: Most of 8 dead in fiery bus crash in Tenn. identified; a close-knit church in NC seeks healing

  • Article by: KRISTIN M. HALL , Associated Press
  • Last update: October 3, 2013 - 10:10 PM

Jerry Wright is the brother of victim John Wright, who had been a member of the church for 50 years and had been a deacon. He said he heard the sad news from his nephew on Thursday morning. His brother's wife, 62-year-old Beverly Wright, was seriously hurt.

"My brother was a good man. Everybody loved him," Wright said.

Standing in his carport, Wright reflected on his brother's life, which revolved around faith and family. The brothers were close. Growing up in rural North Carolina, they played baseball and other sports. His brother was a good athlete - playing shortstop on his high school team - and he stayed active throughout his life, averaging 175 a game in a senior bowling league, Wright said.

"It's sort of a bad dream and when you wake up, you find out it's true," he said.

The tight-knit group of seniors was on its annual road trip, following a tradition for members of the Young at Heart ministry to attend the Fall Jubilee in Gatlinburg. The event's website described the gathering as "three days of singing, laughing and preaching" for "mature and senior believers."

The church's Young at Heart ministry reaches out to older members of the congregation. They take road trips together and sing in the senior choir.

Wright said he had not talked to his brother for a while, but called him Wednesday because Beverly Wright is a nurse and Jerry Wright's granddaughter was sick. They talked for a little bit, and during the conversation, John Wright told his brother that the bus had missed a turn and was turning around.

"I told him, 'I'd see you.'" the last words he spoke with his brother.

Wright had a gut feeling his brother was dead because he tried to call him on his cellphone later Wednesday and it kept ringing.

"A little bit of time," he said about trying to deal with the loss. "We'll make it somehow."

Inside the Statesville church on Wednesday evening, people cried and hugged each other. One woman whispered, "It's going to be all right" while hugging another woman. Police cordoned off the church to prevent reporters from talking to those inside.

"There was a very long night for all of us," Front Street Baptist associate pastor Rick Cruz said Thursday morning. But he said the church has received a tremendous outpouring of love from the community.

"We know God is in control and is able to heal," he said.

What caused the tire to blow out isn't yet known.

The bus itself didn't actually catch on fire, but there was some "heat exposure," Jefferson County Emergency Management Director Brad Phillips said. Emergency responders were able to remove people rapidly away from the flames and other Good Samaritans provided assistance.

The SUV was about 50 yards away from the tractor-trailer. It was still upright, but the back half had been ripped away.

The injured were taken to the University of Tennessee Medical Center in Knoxville.

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