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NTSB: Investigation into deadly I-70 bus crash could take more than a year

National Safety Transportation Board Chief Jennifer Homendy speaks at a podium alongside Ohio State Highway Patrol Colonel Charles Jones.
George Shillcock
/
WOSU
National Safety Transportation Board Chief Jennifer Homendy speaks at a podium alongside Ohio State Highway Patrol Colonel Charles Jones.

The chair of the National Transportation Safety Board outlined the next steps her team is taking to investigate the deadly crash on I-70 in Licking County that killed six people from Tuscawaras County Tuesday.

At a press conference Wednesday, NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy said the investigation could take over a year. She says a preliminary report will be out in a few weeks and the agency might issue safety recommendations earlier if they find something urgent happened in this crash. She said these recommendations could be key to preventing future crashes from occurring if a glaring problem is found that is believed to have caused the crash.

"We have a public health crisis on our roads and we need all hands on deck here. We need to take action to save lives," Homendy said.

The crash killed six people and hospitalized over a dozen others from the five vehicles that were involved in the crash.

Three passengers on the bus, which was carrying a driver and 54 students and chaperones, were pronounced dead at the scene. The victims who died were identified as 18-year-old John W. Mosely, of Mineral City; 18-year-old Jeffery D. Worrell, of Bolivar; and 15-year-old Katelyn N. Owens, of Mineral City.

The bus was traveling to an Ohio School Boards Association conference in Columbus, Tuscarawas Valley Superintendent Derek Varansky said.

Three people in a passenger vehicle accompanying the bus from the school also died in the crash. Those victims were identified Tuesday as 56-year-old Dave Kennat, of Navarre; 39-year-old Kristy Gaynor, of Zoar; and 45-year-old Shannon Wigfield, of Bolivar.

"You can't think about...you can't not think about the children that were involved, their families. The concern parents at home may have had, I mean, there was...this was really tragic," Homendy said.

Following the news of the crash, the Tusky Valley School District community held a vigil to mourn the loss of the six community members.

The Tusky Valley School District held optional classes Wednesday and made resources available to students and faculty who are grieving the loss.

Homendy was joined by Ohio State Highway Patrol Colonel Charles Jones and NTSB Investigator In-Charge Kenneth Bragg at the press conference at the OSHP training facility in Columbus. The federal investigators got their first look at the crash site Wednesday, and will spend the coming weeks looking for physical evidence at the site and from the five vehicles involved in the crash.

Nine investigators and seven other experts with the NTSB are involved in the investigation.

Jones stressed that the investigation will take time.

"The crash is under investigation. And you know, what I will say is, you know, these crash investigations take time, and it's incumbent and imperative that the highway patrol do everything that we can to make sure that any facts that we report are factual and true," Jones said.

The three investigators said their teams are gathering video evidence from nearby businesses and from cars and recovered some cameras and black boxes from some of the crashed vehicles.

Homendy also gave some more details on the crash, including what order the cars were in when the crash occurred. She said one semi led the train of vehicles, followed by a red SUV, the charter bus full of students, a second passenger vehicle accompanying the bus and another semi.

That second passenger vehicle was nearly unrecognizable in photos. The burnt remains of the rear semi looked like a shell of what the vehicle once was.

Another detail Homendy revealed is that only the driver of the charter bus was wearing a seatbelt.

Jones was not able to give more information on another crash that occurred an hour before this one on I-70 westbound, including how far ahead that crash was from this train of vehicles and how severe that crash was. Homendy said the five vehicles in the deadly crash were approaching a traffic cue when the crash happened.

Homendy, Bragg and Jones did not answer questions about what may have caused the crash, the sequence of events during the crash or what may have caused the fire that engulfed the second semi or the charter bus. Officials said much of the information is not yet known, but may be uncovered in the course of the investigation into the crash.

George Shillcock is a reporter for 89.7 NPR News. He joined the WOSU newsroom in April 2023 following three years as a reporter in Iowa with the USA Today Network.