HAMLET, N.C. (WNCN) — A tire failure caused a charter bus crash that killed four people and injured dozens from a South Carolina football squad and closed U.S. Route 74/Interstate 74 in Richmond County on Saturday, according to officials and media reports.
The crash happened around 2:35 p.m. on the U.S. 74 bypass near I-74/exit 316, according to Lt. Jeff Gordon of the N.C. State Highway Patrol.
CBS North Carolina confirmed that four people died in the wreck while 42 people were taken to various hospitals.
The crash happened when the left side front tire on the bus failed in a blowout, the N.C. State Highway Patrol told CBS North Carolina.
The charter bus was carrying a group of college students from the Rock Hill, South Carolina area who were playing for a football team called Ramah Jucco Academy, according to Jim Terry, who works recruiting players for an opposing team called University of God’s Chosen in Raeford.
University of God’s Chosen was set to play the Ramah team on Saturday afternoon at Lake Rim Park in Fayetteville, Terry told CBS North Carolina. Both teams are made up of junior or community college students who wish to play football, but don’t attend a school that has a team.
Many of the players on the Ramah team are from Clinton College in Rock Hill, according to Lt. Gordon.
Gordon also said that family members and fans were in vehicles behind the wreck and saw the bus crash into an overpass column.
Photos of the crash scene showed a large bus that was damaged heavily on the driver’s side, with part of the side ripped open.
Ellen Cooper with FirstHealth Hospital told the Richmond County Daily Journal that eight patients from the bus wreck were in serious condition at FirstHealth Richmond Memorial Hospital. Ten were originally taken to FirstHealth Richmond, but two were airlifted to UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill, officials told CBS North Carolina. Two patients from another hospital were flown to CMC in Charlotte, WBTV reported.
“I’ve been doing this job for 23 years now. I’ve seen my share, and this is one of the worst, especially when you have a group of students, young people just starting their lives, going to a football game,” Gordon said.
Photos from WECT showed heavy damage to the driver’s side of the bus and efforts to remove an injured person on a stretcher from the bus.
Ramah Jucco Academy’s website says their program is new and that “we require that Ramah student athletes attend one of the local community colleges in the area.”
According to WBTV, as of 8:30 p.m. Saturday, 22 people had been discharged from the hospital. Tyreak Thompson is one of the football players released from the hospital. He said all of his teammates attend Clinton College in Rock Hill.
The last thing Thompson remembers was the bus hitting the median railing.
“I was half-asleep, then when I opened my eyes, we had hit the rail, and that’s all I remember,” Thompson told WBTV.
Thompson was able to walk away form the crash without any injuries, but he said he is still shaken up.
“I’m still a little traumatized about it. It’s hard, and I’m fine. I feel sad for all of the other players and hope they’ll be OK,” Thompson said.
Reporters were being turned away from the entrance to the college campus Saturday night. A security guard said the school had no comment on the crash situation, according to WBTV.
Nearby neighbor Bobby Davis said he was a former football player familiar with the Ramah team and its coaches. He said he got several calls bout the crash Saturday and it was news he wasn’t ready to hear.
“A lot of people hurt, people killed, family members, loved ones, kids, college kids which is pretty much kids you know so it’s just a rough day,” Davis told WBTV.
Thompson said he’s thinking of the people on the bus who died.
“Some of us made it, some of us didn’t. Hopefully we get through it. Thank God some of us see another day, and I just pray for the families going through hard times right now,” Thompson said.
The crash scene was closed for hours as crews worked to clean up the area and authorities investigated the wreck.
WBTV contributed to this report.