Wednesday, May 14, 2008

In Memory....Carrollton Bus Crash

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:
Jennifer Arnett
Cynthia Atherton
Sandy Brewer
Joshua Conyers
Mary Daniels
Julie Earnest
Kashawn Etheridge
Shannon Fair
Dwailla Fischel
Rick Gohn
Lori Holzer
Chuck Kytta
Anthony Marks
April Mills
Phillip Morgan
Tina Mustain
William Nichols
Pattie Nunley
John Pearman
Emily Thompson
Crystal Uhey
Denise Voglund
Amy Wheelock
Chad Witt
Joy Williams
Kristen Williams
Robin Williams


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 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. [1]

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.


Anonymous said...

Wow! Very sad indeed. I cannot imagine having one of my children on that bus. What happened to the guilty drunken driver?


Anonymous said...

I live in the Radcliff area and have been in this area all my life. I was a senior in Meade Co. that year and we had buses making that same trip the same day. What a tragedy and how nice of you to remember them on your blog. The article you included at the bottom was not the bus driver as mentioned it was the driver of the pick up that hit the bus. If memory serves me correctly the bus driver was one of the adults killed in the crash.

Kelly Goree Photography said...

You're right, Kim, thank you for the correction - I just mistyped as I was editing last night. It's been fixed. All the best....

Sally said...

Oh Kelly. This is so sad to me. Last year, when we traveled north to visit my sister in Kentucky, we saw this sign. Allyson, my 9 year old, asked me about it and I didn't know what to tell her because I didn't know the story. Now I do. Thanks for sharing it here on your blog. It is incredibly sad and I pray for those families still affected by this horrible accident that happened 20 years ago. -sdavidson

Leah said...

how sad.

Anonymous said...

oh no! That's so tragic! May 14th is my birthday. What a sad thing! I am in love with the new products Kelly! Especially your layouts!

Gabriella said...

I posted a blog on this the other day as well. My family and I attended that church around that time and knew many of the kids and families that passed away or had someone pass away. Some of them even babysat me. Everytime this day comes around I remember it and feel so sad and hurt for those affected by it. 20 years Thanks for posting this. I hope many people look back to this day and other days and see how drinking and driving hurts so many people. Check out my blog.

kraftyladyincali said...

wow, i dont even know you , and reading that make me break down in tears!!!

Theresa Tyree said...

Kelly, this post gave me cold chills. Do you know that Sister Tennyson (she and her husband were pastors of the church those kids belonged to) came to a retreat and preached last September. We cried at her testimony and the trials they went through with this ordeal. If you ever, ever have the chance to hear her speak, please do so at all costs. She is a powerful woman of God. You must hear her testimony.

Anonymous said...

Wow this is a nice way to remember all those who are not with us all they should be here & have family of there own the driver of the pickup truck really hurt us all let a lone him self when a person desides to drink& drive = a crime the bottom line is he had no business behind the wheel thaTS HOW I FEEL ABOUT THE WHOLE THING ALSO THE BUS WAS OLD FOR ONE THING THERE SHOULD HAVE BEEN A SAFETY SHIELD ON THE TANK WHEN THE BUS WAS BEEING BUILT TO THIS DAY i DONT WHY THEY DIDNT INSTALL ONE HAD THERE BEEN ONE THEY ALL COULD HAVE WALKED AWAY FROM IT WELL FOR ONE THING I WONT EVER DRINK& DRIVE THERES TOO MUNCH LOSE & AT STAKE WHY TAKE A RISK IN THIS CASE IT WAS NOT WORTH IT I DONT DRINK IN THE FIRST place I know better the man should have got a ride home by takeing a taxi-cab or a friend or a family member any of these would have been the better choices or even a police officer had he done that he wouldnt have to carry the shame &guilt I feel for all the families that lost a child I wish that I could have done something for them all to make it better a tragedy like this should be a wake call to anyone Ive had some personal Tragedys My self so I know hard it can be its a real eye opener Robert white

Anonymous said...

I have seen that bus crash site 4 times now, and I get very concerned and sad of what happened...does anyone know where pictures of the victims are posted, like on a "in memory" site?

Unknown said...

For those of you interested I maintain a facebook page in honor of the victims of this tragedy.

Anonymous said... I dont know if you'll get this or not but I grew up in Carrollton and I was 8 years old when the horrific accident occured. I live in Bowling Green now and drive home right through the scene. I wont as much play the radio or let my children speak as we pass it. I wish this was a more reviewed topic for people and not just a landmark. Or mabye a website to reach out and remember. I have alot of hate built up on the subject of Drunk Driving being a son of a women whos gotten countless DUI's,it ruined our childhoods as it does many. Sorry I vented this to you, but noone seems to care anymore.

The man behind the mic said...

I was just thumbing through some of the photos of this horrific crash, and it too has a special place in my heart. What many people don't understand or know is that my grandparent's were heroes in that vicious wreck. They were one of the first people directly behind that bus, and my grandfather was one of the brave souls that climbed into the bus and was retrieving some of the students from inside. They don't like to recall, but I am always intrigued by it, and their heroism. I just think it's great to know others still care.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

I really don't know how to explain my story concerning this terrible tradegy, but I will try.

The morning after this accident, I attended church in a community called Woodlawn, just outside of Bardstown, Kentucky. During the service, someone made the comment to pray for the families from Radcilff, Kentucky. I didn't understand at the time what they were talking about.

After church, my wife, our daughter, and myself drove back to Bardstown. On the way, we discussed the upcoming trip our daughter would be making with the high school band to the Amusement Park north of Cincinnati called Kings Island. She was really looking forward to this trip and was excited talking about it that morning.

When we arrived home, the television was turned on and that's when we learned about what the person in church was talking about. The terrible bus crash on Interstate 71 near Campbellsburg, Kentucky. (To this day [January 31, 2013] I cannot understand why it was called the Carrollton Bus Crash?

It didn't matter what channel you turned to on the tv dial, the story was on every channel. I watched for a bit and to this day still can't get the images of the bus being loaded onto the flatbed truck (with the 27 people still inside) and being trucked to the National Guard Armory in Carrollton, Kentucky.

They eventually showed the pictures of some of the kids. When they showed the picture of Amy Wheelock, I started crying. She looked exactly like my daughter who was sitting across the room from my wife and I. She noticed me crying, and I think she understood why.

About a week after Amy was buried at the cemetery in Radcliff, Kentucky my job took me to that town. While I was there, I bought some flowers and found the burial site where Amy rested and placed the flowers on her grave. I noticed nearby there were quite a few pieces of plywood laid out on the ground in a couple of rows. I asked someone nearby if they knew what the plywood was for and they infomred me they were placed there to cover up the holes that had been dug for some of the other victims.

As time went on I would stop by and place flowers on Amy's grave when I was in the area.

My brother was involed in a vehicle accident and was in the hospital in Elizabethtown, Kentucky. I visited with him and then headed north towards Radcilff to visit Amy. When I arrived, I searched and searched but couldn't find her grave anywhere.

I spoke with a worker at the cemetery that day and was informed her family had moved her to Kentland, Indiana.

The place I call home now is in the Pacific Northwest near Seattle, Washington. I served 21 years on active duty for Uncle Sam, and then retired and stayed in the area. The closest I have been to Kentland, Indiana was a visit to Chicago in 2006. I hope to make it to visit Amy again one day.

My 24 year old son drown near Seattle back in 2007. He was cremated and my family and I placed his ashes in the river at Greenwater, Washington on the north side of Mount Rainier. I had always felt the pain of the families from that terrible day in 1988, and with my son passing, now I understood.

When I visit my son, I also talk to Amy. I tell my son about her, and I tell her about him.

Death is something many people face on a daily basis. My belief is life happens. RIP Amy and Josh. Until we meet again.

Matt Sorrell said...

I attended the Kentucky School for the Blind in Louisville from 1983-1995 and had just turned 11 3 days before the crash. I was in Louisville that weekend with Boyscout Troop 10 and remember hearing about the accident. I made the trip twice a week until 1997 and then moved back to my hometown of Falmouth Kentucky. I have a Pastor friend of mine who lived in Carrollton at the time of the crash. He told me that he heard it, and went to help. He now lives in the Falmouth area. I have a question. I've heard that there was an unnamed Woman who helped survivors off the bus. No one has been able to say who she is, and I'm not sure anyone has seen her since the accident. Has anyone heard that story? I realize she probably just wants to be left alone, but I'm sure people would like to simply thank her for her heroism. So, I'll say it now:
Thank you Ma'am for what you did if you're out there.
My heart aches for each and everyone who has lost loved ones, and RIP those who died that night.
Matt Dee Sorrell:
Falmouth Kentucky

The man behind the mic said...

Matt, I'm proud to say my grandmother and grandfather were there immediately following the accident rushing to the aid of survivors. Their stories are graphic and very tough for them to talk about. But I'm very thankful they stopped had it not been for them it's likely none of them would have survived it. I'm happy to share their story no matter how tragic. Their heroism earned them the honor of a Kentucky Coloniel. If you want to reach out I'll listen. Thank you !

Jeremy pealer said...

When I was a boy, maybe 12, I knew Amy. At 12 she was irresistible to me and I had a childhood crush on her that I couldn't explain to my cousins and so for me it was easier to splash her and maybe call her names. She may have never known my name I'm not sure now. I was infatuated with her and was 14 when I read in the Boston globe there had been a bad accident in Kentucky... a place I visited in the summers as a child to live out a carefree summertime existence with grandparents. I went to that cemetery many times and to the memorial and never seemed to get to a peaceful place about the crash as others who were in radcliff, and even were on the bus could get to. Cindy Atherton was also a friend of mine, beautiful person. I remember jumping on her trampoline, she broke her leg on it around that time. Thanks I needed to remember this.... peace

Unknown said...

I was very young about 11 yrs old when my parents decided to leave radcliff and move to Florida. My dad had retired from army in 1979 and we lived in radcliff. Had we stayed i would most likely have gone to north hardin high and graduated in 1988 as is the year i graduated high school in tampa, fl. I was just researching for a camping trip we are making to mammoth cave park this fall and am planning to come to radcliff to see where i lived as a child and i came across this story. I never knew about it until now, i dont recognize the names listed but a few sound familier. Its crazy to think how i could have been effected by this had we never moved. My heart goes out to all those involved and for the loss of lives in this tragedy. Peace be with everyone i hope. (Scott Jameson)

Anonymous said...

Oh, Kelly, I just saw this. How sweet of you to remember and honor my friends so sweetly. Thank you. A survivor/friend just spoke to my daughter's middle school and brought it all back. I was googling and found your blog. God bless and thank you!