COLUMBIA AND GRAY SUMMIT — Ashton Glaser, a redshirt freshman quarterback on the Missouri football team, looked down, shook his head and spoke softly about his friend Daniel Schatz. The first day of preseason practices in the heat of the Missouri summer is tough enough. The news of Schatz's death made it tougher.
Two buses carrying high school band students to an amusement park Thursday slammed into a freeway wreck that happened right in front of them, crushing a pickup truck and killing its driver, as well as one of the students. Dozens of other students were treated for injuries.
The driver of the pickup truck was identified as 19-year-old Schatz, a former walk-on quarterback for the Missouri football team. Schatz, from Sullivan, joined the Tigers as a freshman in 2009 and left the team after 2010 spring practices, according to Chad Moller, the director of media relations for the MU athletics department. Schatz transferred from MU to Westminster College in Fulton after the academic year.
Word of Schatz's death reached his former coaches and teammates at the end of the team's first preseason practice Thursday.
Glaser knew Schatz well. He, like Schatz, had redshirted last season as a quarterback.
"I'm shocked," Glaser said. "When I found out, my heart kind of dropped."
Glaser said he and Schatz were warm-up partners, paired together to play catch before games and practices.
"He's just a great guy," Glaser said. "I feel horrible. He would have done anything for anybody."
"I'm just shocked," he said. "He drives a big truck, too. That's what really shocked me. It had to be brutal. I can't imagine."
Tigers quarterback Blaine Gabbert called the news of Schatz's death "horrendous."
The wreck near Gray Summit, about 40 miles west of St. Louis, happened when the pickup truck rear-ended a semi cab that had slowed down because it was nearing a construction zone, state police said. The first bus, which was carrying female band members from John F. Hodge High School in St. James, slammed into the back of the pickup, then was launched on top of it after it was rear-ended by the second bus, State Highway Patrol Cpl. Jeff Wilson said.
Kolby Griffith, 17, said he was chatting with a friend on the second bus when it crashed.
"It was all very, very quick," Griffith said. "I was trying to get away, trying to get everyone away from the bus because I could smell gas."
One student was also killed in the collision, Cpl. Jeff Wilson of the Missouri State Highway Patrol said. At least 42 other students were taken to hospitals. Most had injuries not considered life-threatening.
Many of them were at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children's Medical Center in St. Louis when they were called into a room and informed of the death of their bandmate, 15-year-old Jessica Brinker of St. James.
"There's a lot of pain," Griffith said, choking back tears.
The students were on their way to a Six Flags amusement park some 10 miles from the crash site.
"My goodness. You send your children off to Six Flags, you don't expect this to happen," Missouri State Highway Patrol Sgt. Dan Crain said. "Being parents, we cannot imagine how difficult this is."
Joy Tucker, the superintendent of the St. James school system, said the 3,700-resident town — known for its wineries, natural splendor and trout fishing in nearby Maramec Spring Park — was devastated.
"It's been a horrible, horrible day in our community, and we'll never get over this," Tucker said.
"Anytime you have something like this, it is big tragedy for a community," echoed Dennis Wilson, the mayor of St. James. He described the community as "one of those towns where you know just about everyone in town and know their kids," including the nearly 600 children who attend Hodge high school.
Ashley Wiehle, a spokeswoman for Cardinal Glennon, said 36 students were taken to that hospital, and that they appeared to be in good condition. They were to be examined as a precaution, Wiehle said.
Bethany Pope, a spokeswoman for St. John's Mercy Medical Center in suburban St. Louis, said six victims were sent there. One of them was later transferred to St. Louis Children's Hospital; the other five were discharged Thursday afternoon.
Jackie Ferman, a spokeswoman for the Children's Hospital, said an injured 16-year-old St. James girl was in stable condition and was being assessed by hospital staff.
Four other victims were taken with minor injuries to St. Clare Health Center in Fenton, a spokeswoman said.
Highway Patrol Cpl. Jeff Wilson said the driver of the first bus moved into the passing lane to give a distressed vehicle in the shoulder more room. She was checking her rearview mirror while returning to the right-hand lane when she noticed the first impact but could not stop in time, hitting the pickup. The second bus then rear-ended the first, vaulting the first bus onto the top of the pickup, which was crushed.
The buses were segregated by gender, with girls in the first and boys on the other, Wilson said.
The pickup was barely recognizable in the tangled wreckage. Hours later, crews using a crane gently lifted the buses off of the crushed wreckage to try to clear the freeway, which was closed going eastbound. Traffic backed up in that direction for as much as 10 miles.
Wilson said it was too soon to say if any of the drivers would face charges.
A spokeswoman for the National Transportation Safety Board said a team of 14 investigators will look into the accident and try to determine if there's a broader safety issue.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.