7-Year-Old Girl Among 2 People Killed in Tenn. School Bus Crash: 'A Tremendous Tragedy'
Of the 22 students on the bus, seven of them suffered injuries that required hospitalization, according to authorities
Two people, including a 7-year-old girl, were killed and seven others were injured after a utility truck collided with a school bus along a Tennessee highway on Tuesday, according to authorities.
Officials with the Tennessee Highway Patrol (THP) confirmed the "double fatality crash" on Twitter, explaining that the incident unfolded at 7751 State Highway 58 in Meigs County.
"Tonight was a tremendous tragedy in Meigs County with a school bus crash involving a commercial vehicle, resulting in two deaths & multiple injuries," officers with the THP in Chattanooga wrote. "Our hearts and prayers go out to the families and the Meigs Co. community."
THP Lt. Bill Miller announced during a press conference that 22 children were on board the school bus Tuesday when a utility service vehicle — operated by Chattanooga-based electrical contractor, Service Electric — lost control, NBC News reported.
The vehicle then veered into the oncoming traffic lane and slammed into the bus, ultimately killing a 7-year-old child and the bus driver, Miller said, per the outlet.
In addition to the two fatalities, authorities confirmed that seven other children suffered injuries in the crash and were transported to Children's Hospital at Erlanger in Chattanooga.
Five of them were airlifted to the hospital, while two others were transported via ambulance, according to The Chattanooga Times Free Press.
As of Wednesday, at least one of those children was in critical condition, NBC News and The Free Press reported, citing local police. The conditions of the rest of the kids, as well as their identities, have not been released.
Meanwhile, the utility driver — whom Miller noted during the press conference had no opportunity to stop before side-skidding in front of the bus — was treated for minor injuries, according to NBC News.
At this time, it is unclear what caused the utility driver to lose control of the vehicle and whether they will face charges. The THP confirmed in their tweet that an investigation is underway.
In a statement to PEOPLE, a spokesperson for Service Electric says: "Service Electric can confirm that an accident involving an employee took place in Meigs County, TN. The investigation is ongoing, and so our ability to provide information is limited."
"We are assisting law enforcement authorities in the ongoing investigation, and our hearts and prayers go out to those involved in the accident," the spokesperson adds.
In the wake of the tragedy, several people spoke out and expressed their condolences to the victims' families.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee issued a statement on Twitter, writing, "[My wife] Maria and I are deeply saddened by the loss of life and injuries sustained from the school bus crash in Meigs County today. We offer prayers of comfort to the families who are hurting tonight and our full support to the community in the days ahead."
Added Mayor of Chattanooga Andy Berk: "My thoughts are with these children and their families. Until we have more information, we will hope for the best and keep them in our prayers."
"It's been a tough day today," Meigs County Sheriff Jackie Melton said during the press conference, according to The Free Press. "It's been tough on law enforcement and tough on first responders. We need to keep the families of all involved our prayers."
In a statement on the Tennessee Department of Education's website, Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn said they were also "deeply saddened" by the tragic news.
"No words can express our sympathies for those lives that were lost," Schwinn wrote. "We send our deepest condolences to the students, families, school staff and leaders, district staff and the entire Meigs County community affected by this tragic accident and wish healing for all those injured."
"The department has communicated with district leaders and staff in Meigs County and surrounding areas and is mobilizing to support this community in safety response and services," she continued.
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Meigs County Schools' superintendent Clint Baker added at the news conference that the crash felt surreal to him, according to The Free Press.
"Never in your wildest dreams do you know when you walk out the door that you'll deal with something like this. It's a tragedy. No other way to describe it," Baker said. "Keep our families in your prayers. That's the only thing that's going to help at this point — just turn it over to Him."