Eight die in church bus crash in Louisiana
Driver fell asleep at the wheel, police say
(CNN) -- The driver of a church bus carrying senior citizens fell asleep at the wheel Monday and rear-ended a tractor-trailer parked off the shoulder of Interstate 20 in northeastern Louisiana, killing eight of the 15 passengers aboard the bus, police said.
"According to the driver's statement, he apparently fell asleep at the wheel," said Trooper Julie Lewis, a spokeswoman for the Louisiana State Police.
The accident occurred two miles west of Tallulah shortly after 11 a.m. (noon EDT), when the eastbound bus from the First Baptist Church of Eldorado, Texas, left the road and struck the rear of the 18-wheeler, which had broken down earlier and was awaiting help, said Lt. William Davis, a public information officer with the state police in Baton Rouge.
The church bus was taking senior citizens on a tour of historical sites.
Pictures showed a gaping hole torn into the right-front section of the bus, its sheet metal exterior ripped apart. The injured include the driver of the bus.
The driver of the truck, which had been hauling raw cotton, was not hurt, Davis said.
"He was sitting there, just waiting for assistance to come," he said.
Five people died at the scene, and three others died in hospitals, the Louisiana State Police said.
At least two others were in critical condition at hospitals.
A seven-mile portion of the highway's eastbound lanes was shut, and traffic was rerouted.
Bert Bryant, publisher of the Madison Journal, told reporters that he came upon the scene shortly after it occurred.
"They had to take the 'Jaws of Life,' and they were in the process of trying to cut them out," he said, referring to a device used to extricate accident victims.
Bryant said he took pictures of the carnage.
"We have some close-ups we're going to have to sit on due to the nature of what happened and the next of kin," he said.
Emergency personnel from the Madison Parish Sheriff's Department, State Highway Patrol, volunteer fire departments and ambulances from three nearby towns converged on the site, he said.
"There was such confusion that we decided to go ahead and get out of the area," Bryant said.