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Encyclopedia > Carrollton bus disaster

The bus collision at Carrollton, Kentucky on May 14, 1988 was one of the most disastrous bus accidents in United States history. A drunk driver traveling the wrong way on an interstate highway collided head-on with a school bus which was in use as a church bus. The initial crash was exacerbated by the bus catching fire and difficulties encountered by the occupants attempting to evacuate the crowded bus in the smoke and darkness. The fire killed 27 people and injured 34 of 67 persons on the bus. Only 6 bus passengers escaped significant injury or death. The drunk driver of the pickup truck sustained only minor injuries. The result of excessive speed, this cement truck rolls over into the front garden of a house. ... Drunk driving (drink driving in the UK) or drinking and driving is the act of operating a motor vehicle after having consumed alcohol (i. ... An IC Corporation CE300 bus transporting Houston ISD students. ... To meet Wikipedias quality standards, this article may require cleanup. ... The examples and perspective in this article or section may not represent a worldwide view. ...

In the aftermath of the tragedy, standards for drinking drivers and for both operation and equipment for school buses and similar non-school buses were improved in Kentucky and many other states. Several parents of victims became active leaders of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), and one became national president. The crash site is marked with a highway sign erected by the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet (KYTC). Even eighteen years later, memorial items such as crosses and flower arrangements continue to be placed at the site by families and friends. An IC Corporation CE300 bus transporting Houston ISD students. ... MADD logo Mothers Against Drunk Driving, or MADD, is a controversial, non-profit organization in the United States and other countries. ...

As of November 2006, the crash remains the worst bus crash in U.S. history.


The bus, driver, and Church Day at King's Island

On May 14, 1988, a youth group consisting of mostly teenagers and 4 adults from First Assembly of God in Radcliff, Kentucky boarded their church activity bus and headed to Kings Island theme park (north of Cincinnati, Ohio, about 170 miles from Radcliff). The group included church members and their invited guests. As everyone showed up early that Saturday morning, those wanting to go on the trip had grown to more than originally anticipated. The church's principal pastor (who stayed behind) restricted the ridership to the legal limit of 66 persons plus the driver. May 14 is the 134th day of the year in the Gregorian Calendar (135th in leap years). ... 1988 (MCMLXXXVIII) was a leap year starting on Friday of the Gregorian calendar. ... The Assemblies of God is the worlds largest Pentecostal denomination with approximately 52. ... Radcliff is a city in Hardin County, Kentucky, United States. ... The centerpiece of Kings Island has always been its 1/3 scale replica of the Eiffel Tower. ... Germany Pavilion, part of the Epcot Center theme park in Orlando, Florida Amusement park (also called theme park) is the generic term for a collection of rides and other entertainment attractions assembled for the purpose of entertaining a fairly large group of people. ... Nickname: The Queen City Location in Hamilton County, Ohio, USA Coordinates: Country United States State Ohio County Hamilton Founded 1788 Incorporated 1819 Mayor Mark L. Mallory (D) Area    - City 206. ... A mile is a unit of length, usually used to measure distance, in a number of different systems, including English units, Imperial units, United States customary units and Norwegian/Swedish mil. ...

The school bus

The church bus was a conventional type body-on-chassis school bus model. The 1977 Ford B-700 school bus chassis was equipped with a Superior school bus body, a model with 11 rows of seats with 39" cushions on either side of a 12" wide center aisle. The bus was ordered by the Kentucky Department of Schools in 1976, as part of an order of over 600 units for districts throughout the state, including 3 for Meade County. An IC Corporation CE300 bus transporting Houston ISD students. ... now. ... Superior Coach was once a school bus manufacturer, but today it focus on building hearses and is located in Lima, Ohio. ...

The chassis was manufactured at Ford's expansive Kentucky Truck Plant located outside Louisville and then was shipped to Lima, Ohio, where the body was installed at Sheller Globe Corporation's Superior Coach Company. It was certified as a school bus with an effective build date of March 23, 1977, which is when the chassis began production, as required by federal regulations. Both the vehicle, defined as a school bus, and the build date were important legal distinctions. March 23 was just nine days before fuel tank guard frames and greater access to emergency exits and a number of other improved safety standards were required by revised federal regulations on all school buses built for use in the U.S. with beginning production dates on or after April 1, 1977. Louisville redirects here. ... Please wikify (format) this article or section as suggested in the Guide to layout and the Manual of Style. ... An IC Corporation CE300 bus transporting Houston ISD students. ...

The completed bus was delivered in time for use during the 1977-78 school year, and served ten years. The church acquired the used school bus as surplussed from the Meade County, Kentucky School District, and it had been owned by the church for about one year. The bus had successfully made the same round-trip to King's Island in July, 1987, was used daily for short local moves on school days, and had made several other long trips. It was checked over regularly by mechanically-inclined church members, including a civilian motor pool supervisor from nearby Fort Knox. Two new tires of a good commercial quality had been installed a week before the ill-fated trip, and front end suspension and steering parts examined at that time. From all indications, the bus was in good condition mechanically on May 14, 1988. An IC Corporation CE300 bus transporting Houston ISD students. ... Meade County is a county located in the state of Kentucky. ... School districts are a form of special-purpose district in the United States (amongst some other places) which serves to operate the local public primary and secondary schools. ... The U.S. Bullion Depository at Ft. ...

The trip before the crash

On the fateful trip, the bus was driven by John Pearman, a part-time associate pastor of the church who was a local court clerk. The group left the church early that morning and traveled uneventfully to the park. They spent the whole day and early evening at Kings Island, then boarded the bus and began traveling out of Ohio and back into Northern Kentucky toward Radcliff. After about an hour, they stopped to fill the 60 gallon fuel tank with gasoline, then resumed the trip southward. Main article: Minister of religion A pastor is the head minister or priest of a Christian church. ... Northern Kentucky is generally agreed to consist of Kentuckys three northernmost counties: Boone, Kenton and Campbell. ... The hour (symbol: h) is a unit of time. ... The gallon (abbreviation: gal) is an English unit of volume. ... A fuel tank is part of an engine system in which the fuel is stored and released into the engine. ... Gasoline, also called petrol, is a petroleum-derived liquid mixture consisting primarily of hydrocarbons and enhanced with benzene or iso-octane to increase octane ratings, used as fuel in internal combustion engines. ...

The Crash

Just before 11:00 p.m., while heading south on Interstate 71 outside of Carrollton, Kentucky, the bus collided almost head-on with a black Chevrolet S-10 pickup truck which was traveling the wrong way (north in the southbound lanes) at a high speed on a curved stretch of the highway. The small truck was driven by Larry Wayne Mahoney, a 34 year-old factory worker who was intoxicated. The result of excessive speed, this cement truck rolls over into the front garden of a house. ... INTERSTATE JUNCTIONS JUNCTION EXIT # I-64 KY 1 I-75 KY 77 OH 1 I-70 OH 106 OH 107 I-76 OH 209 I-80 OH 233 I-90 OH 247 Legend BROWSE STATE HWYS Prev Next {{{browse}}} Interstate 71 is an Interstate Highway in the Southeastern and Midwestern... Carrollton is a city located in Carroll County, Kentucky. ... Mazda compact Pickup truck with extended cabin and homebuilt lumber rack. ... Drunk driving (drink driving in the UK) or drinking and driving is the act of operating a motor vehicle after having consumed alcohol (i. ...

The right front of the pickup truck hit the right front of the bus, breaking off the bus's suspension and driving the leaf spring backward into the gas tank mounted behind an exterior panel but outside the heavier frame, just behind the stepwell for the front door. The impact damage made the front door of the bus inoperable and the spring speared the gas tank. The leaking gasoline quickly caught fire. As the seat covers and the highly flammable polyurethane foam padding ignited, the temperature inside the bus rose to an estimated 2,000 degrees and a thick cloud of noxious smoke enveloped the area from the ceiling down to seat level within a minute or two.

Evacuation difficulties

None of the bus passengers were seriously injured by the collision itself. Within moments after the impact, virtually all of the bus occupants began attempting to evacuate through the single rear emergency door. However, the crush of bodies in the 12 inch aisle created a human barrier and many passengers found themselves unable to move. One small framed woman (a chaperone) managed to squeeze out a 9" x 24" window opening on the left side adjacent to her seating position, but attempts by other occupants to break or kick out any of the side windows were unsuccessful.

Passersby and some of those who escaped helped pull many of the immobilized children out through the rear emergency door opening, and help them to ground level (about 3 feet) but before all could escape, the raging fire had engulfed the entire interior of the bus, trapping the 27 persons who were still aboard. At that point, no more passengers were at the doorway, and none were within reach from outside the bus.

Transporting injured, removing those killed

After fire, rescue, and police authorities responded to the scene, treated and transported survivors, and extinguished the fire, a crane was used to load the bus onto a flatbed truck that transported the bus and those persons killed to the National Guard Armory in Carrollton. There emergency crews went through the interior of the bus seat by seat in order to find and remove bodies. Many bodies were found facing the only exit, the rear door. The coroner later determined that none of the bus occupants suffered broken bones or mortal injuries from the crash impact; all had died from the fire and smoke. Seal of the National Guard Bureau Seal of the Army National Guard Seal of the Air National Guard Seal of the National Guard Missile Defense The United States National Guard is a component of the United States Army (the Army National Guard) and the United States Air Force (the Air...

Among the bus survivors, one person's leg from just below the knee had to be amputated, and about ten others suffered disfiguring burns. Only 6 bus passengers were uninjured and virtually all suffered varied degrees of emotional trauma and survivor guilt syndrome. When authorities were able to tally the counts from the various hospitals and the bodies aboard the bus, and autopsies had been conducted, it was determined that 27 persons had been killed by the fire, and another 34 aboard the bus injured, as well as the truck driver who was also injured. As a result, this collision has the highest death and injury toll of any school bus crash in United States history. Survivor guilt is a type of remorse felt by people who manage to survive a tragic event involving much loss of life, especially the lives of friends and loved ones or other people commonly associated with the survivor. ...

NTSB report of the collision

The National Transportation Safety Board responded, conducted and investigation and issued a report on March 28, 1989. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is a U.S. government organization responsible for investigation of accidents involving aviation, highway, marine, pipelines and railroads in the United States. ... The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is a U.S. government independent organization responsible for investigation of accidents involving aviation, highway, marine, pipelines and railroads in the United States. ... March 28 is the 87th day of the year in the Gregorian Calendar (88th in leap years). ... 1989 (MCMLXXXIX) was a common year starting on Sunday of the Gregorian calendar. ...

NTSB Summary

"About 10:55 p.m. EDT on May 14, 1988, a pickup truck traveling northbound in the southbound lanes of Interstate 71 struck head-on a church activity bus traveling southbound in the left lane of the highway near Carrollton, Kentucky. As the pickup truck rotated during impact, it struck a passenger car traveling southbound in the right lane near the church bus. The church bus fuel tank was punctured during the collision sequence, and a fire ensued, engulfing the entire bus. The bus driver and 26 bus passengers were fatally injured. Thirty-four bus passengers sustained minor to critical injuries, and six bus passengers were not injured. The pickup truck driver sustained serious injuries, but neither occupant of the passenger car was injured."

Eastern Daylight Time or EDT is equal to: In North America, Eastern Standard Time + 1, or UTC − 4 hours. ...

Post-collision actions

When fire first broke out immediately after the collision, bus driver John Pearman tried to put it out with a small fire extinguisher while passengers began to evacuate through the center rear emergency door, squeezing through the narrow opening between the two rear seats and jumping approximately 3 feet to the ground. The front door was blocked by collision damage, and there were no emergency exit windows or roof hatches, as found on commercial buses and some school buses of the time. Only one adult, a woman who was of small stature, managed to escape through a nine-inch opening side window. When she looked back up from the ground, the window opening was filled with flames. The other three adults aboard, including Pearman, died. Fire extinguisher A fire extinguisher is a device used to put out a fire, often in an emergency situation. ...

Survivors stated that after emptying the small fire extinguisher, Pearman helped some of the many children find their way down the narrow and dark aisle to the only practical way out of the smoke-filled bus. Several older boys attempted to kick out side windows without success. A pileup of passengers formed in and adjacent to the twelve inch aisle leading to the rear door, which was partially blocked by seat backs from the last row and a cooler stored in the aisle near row 10.

Many of those who made it to the area adjacent to rear door were wedged in so tightly that passersby helped pull children out from the human jam at the rear emergency door by force. However, within four minutes or less, the entire bus was on fire, and soon the exodus of passengers stopped. At that point, the passersby who had stopped to help could not reach those still aboard due to the raging fire, and turned their efforts to tending to the crowd of 40 stunned and mostly injured survivors.

School bus and church bus standards and regulations

A contributing factor to the crash itself and the severity seemed to be loopholes between the laws and procedures for a school bus and those involving the same vehicle after it was released from school service, but continued to be used for transporting passengers in non-school use. (Had the bus been built new in March 1977 for the non-school use such as a church activity bus, the applicable federal motor vehicle standards in place at that time would have required it to have been built with more emergency exits than were required for school buses). One of the NTSB recommendations after the Carollton Bus Disaster was that school buses have no fewer emergency exits than required of non-school buses. An IC Corporation CE300 bus transporting Houston ISD students. ...

Some states also require that the usually different seating capacities for children and adults be displayed near the service door of school buses and non-school buses. Most states consider secondary school (middle and high school) age students to be adults with regards to the space occupied in bus seats and aisles by their bodies.

Media coverage, book

Among the many media agencies which provided thorough coverage, which has extended even to the 10th and 15th anniversaries of the tragedy, The Courier-Journal of Louisville, Kentucky received the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for General News Reporting for its coverage. The Courier-Journal is available throughout the greater Louisville area, and throughout almost all of Kentucky. ... Louisville redirects here. ...

Following the NTSB report — and much sooner in many instances — many federal, state, and local agencies and bus manufacturers changed regulations, vehicle features, and operating practices.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving, a grassroots organization, worked both before and after the Carrollton crash to reduce the hazards created by drunk (or drinking) drivers. Two mothers of Carrollton victims became national president and vice president of the organization. MADD logo Mothers Against Drunk Driving, or MADD, is a controversial, non-profit organization in the United States and other countries. ... Grassroots is a political movement for individual constituents of a community to voice their ideas and opinions. ...

There was considerable civil litigation. Ford Motor Company, Sheller Globe, and others eventually contributed to settlements with all victims. A lawsuit is a civil action brought before a court in order to recover a right, obtain damages for an injury, obtain an injunction to prevent an injury, or obtain a declaratory judgment to prevent future legal disputes. ... now. ...

The accident and its aftermath, including efforts of some of the families to obtain more than mere financial settlements, were chronicled by author James S. Kuen in his 1994 book Reckless Disregard: Corporate Greed, Government Indifference, and the Kentucky School Bus Crash.

Long-term ramifications

NTSB summary conclusion

The NTSB determined "the probable cause of the collision between the pickup truck and the church activity bus was the alcohol-impaired condition of the pickup truck driver who, operated his vehicle opposite to the direction of traffic flow on an interstate highway."

"Contributing to the severity of the accident was the puncture of the bus fuel tank and ensuing fire in the bus, the partial blockage by the rear bench seats of the area leading to the rear emergency door which impeded rapid passenger egress, and the flammability of the materials in the bus seat cushions."

"The safety issues discussed in the report include:

  • effects of alcohol on driver performance,
  • effectiveness of driving-under-the-influence program in Kentucky,
  • current Federal standards used in school bus manufacture,
  • flammability and toxicity of school bus seating materials,
  • emergency egress on school buses, and
  • fuel system integrity of school buses"

Larry Mahoney

Mahoney, the driver of the truck the bus hit, was a repeat drunk-driving offender. He survived, sustaining only minor injuries. His blood alcohol concentration (BAC) was .24 percent — substantially more than the 1988 Kentucky legal limit of .10. Mahoney had no memory of the crash and learned of the collision after waking in the hospital the next day. Blood Alcohol Content (or Blood Alcohol Concentration), often abbreviated BAC, is the concentration of alcohol in blood, measured, by volume, as a percentage. ...

He was sentenced to imprisonment for 16 years after a jury of the Carroll Circuit Court, under Indictment No. 88-CR-27, convicted him of 27 counts of manslaughter in the second degree, 16 counts of assault in the second degree, 27 counts of wanton endangerment in the first degree, and one count of driving while under the influence of intoxicants. On appeal, in Case No. 1988-CA-1635, Judge Anthony M. Wilhoit of the Kentucky Court of Appeals reversed Mahoney's conviction for drunk driving on the grounds that it constituted double jeopardy under the Kentucky Constitution, ruling that the 27 counts of manslaughter in the second degree subsumed the drunk driving conviction. The court ruled that, under Kentucky law, the elements of drunk driving were substantially similar to those of manslaughter. This was a somewhat ironic result because it meant that Mohoney's driver's license could be reinstated, even during his imprisonment. The Kentucky Supreme Court subsequently reversed this line of reasoning in another case, Justice v. Commonwealth, 987 S.W.2d 306 (Ky. Dec 17, 1998). On May 6, 1992, the Kentucky Supreme Court denied review of Mahoney's appeal in Case No. 1992-SC-98.

At the Kentucky State Reformatory, Mahoney worked in the medium-security facility as a janitor. He earned his GED high school equivalency diploma and participated in Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous programs. Described by authorities as a model prisoner, Mahoney reduced his incarceration by six years with good behavior, known under Kentucky law as "good time" credit. He declined the Kentucky Parole Board's parole recommendation and served out his sentence, before leaving the prison in La Grange, on September 1, 1999, having served 10 years and 11 months. Local television stations broadcast video of him walking out of the prison. A janitors bucket with mop A janitor is a person who takes care of a building, such as a school, office building, or apartment block. ... The GED, General Educational Development, or General Equivalence Degree Test, is a test that certifies the taker has attained American or Canadian high school-level academic skills. ... High school - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia /**/ @import /skins-1. ... A diploma (from Greek diploma) is a certificate or deed issued by an educational institution, such as a university, that testifies that the recipient has successfully completed a particular course of study, or confers an academic degree. ... Logo for A.A. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is an international community of people who identify as alcoholics who meet in groups. ... The official logo of Narcotics Anonymous Narcotics Anonymous (N.A.) is a twelve-step program designed to treat drug addiction, modeled on Alcoholics Anonymous. ... La Grange is a city located in Oldham County, Kentucky. ... September 1 is the 244th day of the year (245th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. ... 1999 (MCMXCIX) was a common year starting on Friday, and was designated the International Year of Old Farts by the Sometimes-United Nations. ...

That week, according to a published account in The Courier-Journal (Louisville), some survivors of the crash and families of the victims had said that they were willing to forgive Mahoney though the tragedy marked forever the congregation of the First Assembly of God, which had many members on the bus. While this might seem remarkable to some, the victims were members of a church, and forgiveness is a tenet of Christianity. "I feel a little bit sorry for him", Katrina Henderson, then 23, told The Courier-Journal in 1998. "He didn't wake up one day and say 'I'm going to kill 27 people.' That's not to take any blame away from him. I think that he is a person who made some very bad choices and he paid for those choices," said Henderson, who was aged 12 when she survived the wreck. During his trial, the idea was discussed that Mahoney could save lives by talking to school groups, but Mahoney has so far declined. The Courier-Journal is available throughout the greater Louisville area, and throughout almost all of Kentucky. ...

According to a story by The Cincinnati Enquirer in 2003, Mahoney was living in quiet, self-imposed obscurity in rural Owen County, Kentucky, about ten miles (16 km) from the crash site. Owen County is a county located in the state of Kentucky. ...

"I'm so happy that I got out of that alive," Mahoney said, "From that day on I never drank again."

MADD and Drunk Driving prevention

The accident riveted the nation's attention on the problem of drunken driving like never before and has been credited in part with causing the steady decline in the number of alcohol-related fatalities.

One of the victims, the youngest killed on the fatal bus, was 10 year-old Patricia "Patty" Susan Nunnallee. Patty's mother, Karolyn Nunnallee became an active member of MADD after the crash, eventually becoming MADD's national president. Patty's mother wrote on MADD's memorial web page to Patty: They were traveling on a school bus, so I thought she'd be safe. MADD logo Mothers Against Drunk Driving, or MADD, is a controversial, non-profit organization in the United States and other countries. ...

Janey Fair, whose 14 year old daughter Shannon was killed, become a national lobbyist for MADD, and rose within the organization to become a member of the Board of Directors and is a national vice-president. She is also head of the Kentucky Victims Coalition. According to the MADD website, "MADD helped me find my inner strength and see that life could go on," Janey said. "I have found I can make real changes in people's attitudes about drinking and driving and in how our government addresses this critical problem. Additionally, I can help other victims move forward in their lives." Her husband also became active locally in MADD.

Joy Williams, wife of Lee Williams, a pastor of the church, and their two young daughters, Kristen and Robin, were among those killed. Dotty Pearman's husband, John Pearman was associate pastor at the church and the bus driver, was also was killed while their daughter, Christy, was involved in the crash and survived.

In the year after the crash, Lee Williams and Dotty Pearman, who barely knew each other before the crash, became friends. The couple fell in love and, on July 8, 1989, they were married.

Lee and Dotty Williams also volunteer for MADD. Lee is a former chapter president of MADD in Hardin County, Kentucky, and Dotty is the current president. The couple often speaks to school groups, assists with health fairs and participates in other local events. "If I can persuade one person not to drink and drive, I've won," said Dotty. "I especially think it is important to educate children early on about the dangers of drinking and driving. We need to address the issue of alcohol with youth before it becomes a problem." Hardin County is a county located in the state of Kentucky. ...

Changes in Kentucky

The Commonwealth of Kentucky now requires all school buses to have nine emergency exits--more than any other federal or state standard. This includes front and back doors, a side door, four emergency windows and two roof exits. The bus that crashed at Carrollton had only front and back exits, and 11 rows of 39" seats, including the crucial area near the rear door. Official language(s) English[1] Capital Frankfort Largest city Louisville Area  Ranked 37th  - Total 40,444 sq mi (104,749 km²)  - Width 140 miles (225 km)  - Length 379 miles (610 km)  - % water 1. ...

Buses used by Kentucky schools must also have a cage around the fuel tank, a stronger frame and roof to resist crumpling on impact and rollover, high-backed seats, extra seat padding, a fuel system that slows leaks, flame-retardant seats and floors, reflective tape on all emergency exits, and strobe lights on the exterior. Schools also must have a diesel-powered fleet.

In 1991 Kentucky enacted stricter drunk driving laws.

MADD officials had expressed frustration that Kentucky's laws involving drinking and driving have not been as "progressive" as those in many other states.[citation needed]


Several memorials exist:

  • Ford Motor Company paid for a black marble memorial in North Hardin Memorial Gardens Cemetery in Radcliff, Kentucky. The stone lists the names of all of the persons who were aboard the bus during the crash.
  • Mothers Against Drunk Driving has memorial web pages for two of the younger victims who were killed aboard the bus, a page dedicated to the collision, and another regarding the 15th Anniversary in 2003.
    • Dwailla Fischel, 14 years old
    • Patricia "Patty" Susan Nunnallee, 10 years old
    • Kentucky Bus Crash: A Legacy of Hope
    • MADD Honors Victims on 15th Anniversary of Nation's Worst DUI Crash, Unveils Federal Plan

MADD logo Mothers Against Drunk Driving, or MADD, is a controversial, non-profit organization in the United States and other countries. ...


See also

The examples and perspective in this article or section may not represent a worldwide view. ... An IC Corporation CE300 bus transporting Houston ISD students. ... Church bus and school bus safety issues have always been closely-related in the United States. ... Photo courtesy of Wayne Bus Enthusiasts group on Yahoo Advertisement for 1973 Wayne Lifeguard School Bus on Ford chassis. ...

External links



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