CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (CBSNewYork/CBS News/AP) — Six passengers were killed Monday when an elementary school bus crashed in Chattanooga, Tennessee, officials said.
As CBS2’s Valerie Castro reported, it was a grim scene when the school bus toppled over on its side – a tree severing the back half.
Hamilton County, Tennessee District Attorney Neal Pinkston told media outlets that five people were killed at the scene and one died at the hospital. Melydia Clewell, spokeswoman for the district attorney, confirmed the number.
Chattanooga Police Chief Fred Fletcher said 35 students were on board on the bus when it crashed, according to CBS affiliate WDEF-TV. At a news conference, Fletcher said that the bus was the only vehicle involved.
The Chattanooga Fire Department’s Public Information Director, Bruce Garner, said in a tweet that 23 patients were taken to hospitals in ambulances.
Colonel Tracy Trott of the Tennessee Highway Patrol tweeted that children were both killed and injured:
Chattanooga Assistant police Chief Tracy Arnold said the ages of the students ranged from kindergarten through fifth grade. The students were from Woodmore Elementary.
First responders worked quickly to save those they could.
“A bus crash involving school children is every public safety professional’s worst nightmare, but it’s also what we all train for.” Fletcher said.
Some families could be seen walking away from the crash site, while others carried their children. One woman had several children by her side as she left the scene – some with visible injuries.
People who live nearby heard the collision.
“I just heard a big boom,” one neighbor said. “I was watching TV and all the power went out; had no idea what had happened.”
Police said the bus was the only vehicle involved in the crash. The cause remained unknown late Monday, but the bus driver was cooperating with investigators.
“Certainly, speed is being investigated very, very strongly as a factor in this crash,” Fletcher said.
A black box recorder will also be examined for clues, along with surveillance video from cameras on board the bus.
Late Monday, the community was just beginning to process the loss of young lives.
“This has been one of the worst days we’ve had in the Hamilton County school community,” said Hamilton County Schools Interim Supt. Kirk Kelly.
At the state Capitol in Nashville, Gov. Bill Haslam called the crash “a tragic event” and offered assistance.
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