Two school buses loaded with children from a band camp collided with a tractor trailer on a Missouri highway today, killing two people and injuring as many as 50 others.
The crash occurred at approximately 10:15 a.m. when a tractor with no trailer was rear-ended by a pickup truck, according to Sgt. Dan Crain of the Missouri State Highway Patrol. It is believed that the tractor had slowed due to construction on the highway.
Katherine Shaelford, driver of the first school bus carrying the camp's female members, had taken her "eyes off the road" to check her mirrors so she could shift into the left lane when she failed to notice the accident, said Crain. That bus then crashed into the pick-up truck, pushing it up and over the tractor.
The second bus carrying the male campers, driven by Kelly McCennis-Mullenix, then struck the first bus, pushing it on top of the tractor and the pick-up truck.
The student who was killed in the crash has been identified by a relative as Jessica Brinker. According to Corporal Jeff Wilson of the Missouri State Highway Patrol, Brinker was sitting in the last seat of the first bus, the point at which the second bus crashed into the first. Brinker had celebrated her sixteenth birthday on June 30.
In a Facebook page dedicated to Brinker, a friend posted, "She was the most funniest girl to be around!! always rockin the knee high sock...we love you Jessica R.I.P."
Crain said the second fatality, believed to be male, was the driver of the pickup truck. The driver of the tractor has been taken to a hospital for observations.
"The vehicles are all attached to each other, we're attempting to pull them apart now," said Crain.
When the vehicles were pried apart, the pickup truck was so badly crushed that it was barely recognizable as a truck.
"It was just, evacuate, get away from the scene," said Kolby Griffith, who played cymbos in the band, describing the scene after the accident.
The students, high schoolers from John F. Hodge High School in Missouri's St. James High School District, were members of a band. Griffith's father, Rocky, described the group as tight-knit, having played together for years.
Joy Tucker, the superintendent of the St. James school system, said the entire town was devastated.
"It's been a horrible, horrible day in our community, and we'll never get over this," Tucker said.
The posted speed limit on Interstate 44 is 70 mph. Crain said it was not yet clear how fast the drivers were going and whether they had been speeding at the time of the accident.
Only eight of the victims had injuries serouis enough to warrant taking an ambulence to a hospital, said Crain.
It was the last day of band camp and the children were on the annual end-of-camp trip to a Six Flags amusement park when the collision occurred about an hour from the school.
It was not immediately clear whether there were seatbelts on the buses.
Under Missouri law it is up to each individual school district to determine if they want to put seatbelts on buses over 10,000 pounds – which both of these buses were.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration does not require seatbelts for larger school buses, believing the bus design – with high back, padded seats – offers enough good protection. A few years ago, the requirement for the seat height was increased from 20 to 24 inches to improve "compartmentalization."
NHTSA did, in 2008, "encourage" districts to put in seatbelts if they had the financial wherewithal and felt it was a good safety move.
The district's buses have been recently inspected in anticipation of the start of the school year, according to Missouri State Highway Patrol. One bus failed the inspection, but with a minor problem that was fixed on the spot.
Thirty-five of the children on the buses were being transferred to Cardinal Glennon Children's Medical Center in St. Louis for treatment. None of those children are believed to have serious injuries.
"They are all listed as green patients, which means they have light injuries and most of them are up and walking around," said Mary Aita, public relations officer for the hospital.
One child initially being transported to Glennon was rerouted to St. Louis Children's Hospital. Aita speculated that it may be because the individual was more seriously injured.
Four other students are being transported to St. John's Mercy Hospital. Their condition is unknown.
The crash occured on Interstate 44 near Gray Summit, which is about 40 miles southeast of St. Louis.
Rescue ladders can be seen leaning into the windows of the buses.
Traffic was backed up on the highway for 10 miles after the crash.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration which oversees commercial trucking has representatives either heading to, or already on scene of the crash.
ABC News' Susan Caraher and Lisa Stark and The Associated Press contributed to this report.