Twenty years ago today, the worst drunk driving fatality ever occurred in Kentucky and not far from my town. It hit home with me particularly hard for many reasons. I was a senior then just graduating from High School and the kids killed were not only around my age, but from a town only 45 miles from my own. They were coming back from a group trip to Kings Island (in Cincinnati) - a trip I took myself so many times with countless groups growing up. A family friend was one of the doctors in Carrollton that day taking care of the victims and their families and I cringe still at the tales I heard from that day.
But it wasn't until I hit college that it hit home even more for me. Carmen, my senior roommate in college was from the Radcliff/Elizabethtown area and most of these names listed below were her friends. Twenty years have come and gone and the memory is still so fresh for me, that I can't imagine what it's like for those who lost their loved ones. I'm thinking of you all today - the survivors, the families, all those beautiful children lost who should be my age today with families of their own...and you, Carmen.
In loving memory of:
About 11:00 p.m. EDT on Saturday May 14, 1988, Larry Mahoney, a drunk driver in a pickup truck traveling in the wrong direction on an interstate highway in a rural, unincorporated area of Carroll County, Kentucky collided head-on with a gasoline-powered former school bus which was in use as a church bus. The initial crash was exacerbated when the gasoline from the ruptured fuel tank of the bus ignited immediately after impact, which also blocked the front loading door. Difficulties encountered by the victims attempting to evacuate the crowded bus quickly in the smoke and darkness through the only other designated exit, the rear emergency door, resulted in the death of 27 people and injured 34 of 67 passengers. Six passengers escaped without significant injury. Mahoney sustained minor injuries.
In the aftermath of the disaster, several family members of victims became active leaders of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), and one became national president (Karolyn Nunnallee). MADD has helped efforts to tighten standards for drinking drivers and alcohol-awareness. There are strong indications that the families and others in MADD have made a difference since 1988. According to the Firehouse.com website, with MADD's significant influence, all 50 states have now passed laws making it a criminal offense to drive with a designated level of alcohol, regardless of whether the driver is impaired or not. MADD then successfully lobbied to lower that original level of .10% down to .08%, and members are actively working to lower it even further. 
The standards for both operation and equipment for school buses and similar buses were improved in Kentucky and many other states, notably increased emergency exits, better structural integrity, and less volatile fuel. Other safety issues remains to be addressed. Flammability of materials used in bus seating must also be factored with cost, durability and performance of the foam in impact situations. Another unresolved issue is the lack of requirements for occupant restraints such as seat belts in larger capacity school buses. Some advocates find it ironic that use of the lap seat belts currently available would have likely reduced the number of the 40 occupants who managed to escape the bus in the short time available during the Carrollton incident.
On Interstate 71, the crash site is marked with a highway sign erected by the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet (KYTC). Even twenty years later, memorial items such as crosses and flower arrangements are placed at the site by families and friends. As of November 2007, the Carrollton crash remains the worst bus crash in U.S. history tied for fatalities with the Prestonsburg bus disaster which occurred 30 years earlier in Floyd County, Kentucky in 1958.
For those of you wondering what happened to the drunk driver of the pick-up truck, I found this from 2003:
Ten miles and 15 years from the spot where he took 27 lives in the nation's worst drunken-driving accident, Mahoney lives in self-imposed obscurity on a rural Owen County road. About 54 miles southwest of Cincinnati, the road is so remote it isn't marked.
He served nearly 11 years for causing what's become known as "The Carrollton Bus Crash," a horrific accident that took place May 14, 1988. Mahoney was sentenced to 16 years in prison after a Carroll County jury convicted him of 27 counts of second-degree manslaughter, 16 counts of second-degree assault and 27 counts of wanton endangerment.
Because of good behavior - authorities described Mahoney as a model prisoner - Mahoney had nearly six years knocked off his sentence. He served 10 years and 11 months before leaving the Kentucky State Reformatory in LaGrange, outside Louisville, on Sept. 1, 1999.