Two people died and two others were seriously injured Wednesday night when a semitrailer truck on Interstate 74 crashed head-on into a school bus carrying Normal West girls basketball players back from a game in Champaign. None of the students were critically injured.
The crash happened at 8:30 p.m. on I-74 around mile marker 137 between the Downs and U.S. 51/Main Street exits. Illinois State Police said the semitrailer truck was driving in the wrong lane when it struck the bus head-on. Videos circulating on social media showed the front of the bus caved in.
Killed in the crash was Charles Crabtree, 72, of Normal, said State Police Trooper Tracy Lillard. Crabtree was a volunteer with the basketball team, she said. The 34-year-old Iowa driver of the semitrailer truck died after being flown to OSF HealthCare Saint Francis Medical Center in Peoria. His name was not released.
There were 11 people on the Unit 5 bus, including eight students, Crabtree, a coach, and the bus driver, authorities said. They were returning from a JV girls basketball game earlier Wednesday night at Champaign Central High School. The team included freshmen, sophomores, and one junior.
The coach and bus driver were in serious condition at Saint Francis in Peoria late Wednesday, officials said. Four students were in good condition at OSF St. Joseph Medical Center in Bloomington, said OSF Vice President for Public Relations Karen Brodbeck. Four other students were treated and released at Advocate BroMenn Medical Center in Normal, hospital spokesperson Lynn Hutley said early Thursday.
"Our hearts go out to all affected by this incident," Brodbeck said.
All students were stable with non-life-threatening injuries and have family with them at various hospitals, said Unit 5 spokesperson Dayna Brown.
"Please keep our Normal West family in your thoughts," Unit 5 said on Facebook.
Parents and students flocked to Normal West late Wednesday looking for support and information.
"Social media spreads information very quickly and students began to gather here. So we brought in administrators and social emotional support and we had some dogs here tonight, emotional (support) dogs," said Brown.
Brown said social media is so fast she received notice of the crash at virtually the same time from both police and her 17-year-old student daughter.
Support for students included service dogs, counselors, and at least three pastors from the community. Some adults joined hands and bowed in prayer. Students hugged each other.
"Our hearts go out to the students and players, coaches and teachers, family and friends, and all those in the Normal West family and Unit 5 community," the Unit Five Education Association teachers' union said on Twitter. "Please join us in sending positive thoughts and prayers on behalf of the Wildcats tonight."
Westbound I-74 remained closed late Wednesday. The Illinois Department of Transportation said to expect significant delays, calling it a "major traffic incident." McLean County Coroner Kathy Davis was at the scene.
"Currently the crash remains an open and ongoing investigation," Illinois State Police said in a statement.
Major traffic incident on I-74 WB about MM 137. Traffic is being detoured off at Downs to US 150. Expect significant delays.
— IDOT District 5 (@IDOTDistrict5) December 6, 2018
Trooper Lillard told reporters about midnight that it would be at least two more hours before accident reconstructionists were done processing the scene and the interstate could be reopened. Until then troopers planned to reroute traffic through Downs and onto U.S. 150.
State Police did not immediately have the name of the truck driver or the firm that owns the tractor trailer. Peoria County Coroner Jamie Harwood said an autopsy is planned for Thursday.
Brown said Normal West will have a regular school day Thursday and the district will have supports in place for students, parents, and staff members.
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