GREENFIELD — As he ran toward the overturned bus, Terrance Gardner said he was already praying: Let them be alive.
Terrance, 15, of Gary, was among the first to reach the scene of the crash, to see the smashed remains of the church bus lying overturned off Interstate 70 near the 107 mile marker. Word quickly spread: Eight people were injured, and one — a 6-year-old boy — was dead.
Police said the man driving the 12 parishioners from St. Jude Family Deliverance Worship Center was behind the wheel despite having a suspended license.
As police investigated the cause of the crash, they learned Charles Goodman, 53, of Gary, had a history of driving violations and was wanted on a warrant in Lake County after failing to appear in court for a traffic offense, police said.
Goodman was thrown from the bus, which then rolled over on him, breaking his arm, police said. He was alert when first-responders arrived.
Terrance, a member of the church, was among those following the bus, which was en route to a youth conference in Dayton when it crashed.
It was 4:10 p.m. when the bus cut suddenly off the south side of the interstate, slamming into a tree before coming to rest on its side and catching fire.
Alarmed drivers, including members of the church, stopped to help, rushing to the wreckage to try to put out the flames.
Pieces of the bus were strewn across the roadway, with debris scattered far from the site of the impact.
“Everything was destroyed,” Terrance said. “I instantly got out and rushed to help as many people as I could. I was just praying that everyone could make it out.”
Eight of the 12 people on the bus were taken to area hospitals, one by helicopter. Four people escaped unharmed.
But as church members gathered along the side of the road, it quickly became clear one of their own was missing.
Jacob Williams, 6, did not survive. He was pronounced dead at the scene, police said.
The accident snarled traffic on eastbound I-70 as investigators closed all eastbound lanes to investigate the crash.
The interstate was closed at the Greenfield exit, about three miles west of the crash site, and traffic was diverted to State Road 9 for several hours.
While police surveyed the scene for clues, LaRessia Curington wondered what caused the driver to swerve off the road.
Curington, 49, of Gary, was also in a car following the bus.
Her son, 13, was on board. He was also the first to make it out.
As rescuers prepared to haul the wreckage away, church members leaned on each other — and their faith — for support.
“I’m still praying,” Curington said.