The bus driver and a 10-year-old child are among the four people killed after a bus carrying a junior college football team to its first game ever crashed on a North Carolina highway, state troopers said.
The front left tyre on the bus blew out around 2.30pm local time, sending it into a guardrail, then scraping the side of a concrete bridge column on US Highway 74 near Hamlet, North Carolina, Highway Patrol Lt. Jeff Gordon said.
The National Transportation Safety Board is sending two investigators to the scene of the crash to investigate the tyres on the bus, agency spokesman Christopher O'Neil said, adding the board hasn't decided whether it will do a full investigation of the wreck.
The driver of the bus, Brian Kirkpatrick, 43, of Chester was killed as were Darice Hicks, 10, of Rock Hill; Devonte Gibson, 21, of Rock Hill; and Teto Hamilton, 19, of Pahokee, Florida.
Two of the dead were ejected from the bus and two were rescued from inside, but died a short time later at the hospital, Gordon said.
The wreck involved a football team from Ramah Jucco Academy travelling to Raeford, North Carolina, to play University of God's Chosen. Troopers say most of the players on the team came from Clinton College in Rock Hill.
The Ramah Academy team held open tryouts around Rock Hill in the spring and summer. Information for the tryouts said anyone age 18 to 24 attending a local community college could come out, emphasising it was a good opportunity for high school seniors who haven't signed to play college ball or for players with academic difficulties.
Coach Derrick Crawford said on his Facebook page this was Ramah Academy's first game ever and invited fans to come out and wish the team luck before they left Saturday morning.
Gibson and Hamilton were students at Clinton College, which cancelled classes Monday and brought in grief counsellors, said Robert Copeland, vice president for student affairs.
"During the brief time that we have had these young men, they have become entrenched parts of the Clinton College family," Copeland said in a statement.
The wreck happened about 113 kilometres southeast of Charlotte. Pictures from the scene showed almost all of the metal scraped off the left side of the bus, with the front left third torn open.
Ramah Academy player Tyreak Thompson told WBTV-TV that he was dosing off when the bus slammed into the guardrail. He was able to walk off the bus and was checked out at a local hospital.
"Thank God some of us see another day, and I just pray for the families going through hard times right now," Thompson said. A special accident reconstruction team will likely spend weeks on its crash report, Gordon said.
The website for the Ramah Academy team lists six games this season, but no opponents for four of them. The team's mission is to give opportunities to players who "have made mistakes academically."
"This is non-profit organisation formed for the sole purpose of giving underprivileged students another opportunity to excel academically, athletically and find a college that fits both their academic and athletic quests in order to prepare for the next level," the website reads.