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Sat May 14, 2022, 09:49 AM

On this day, May 14, 1988, the Carrollton bus collision happened.

Carrollton bus collision

Date: May 14, 1988; 10:55 pm (EDT)
Location: Interstate 71; 5 mi (8.0 km) S from Carrollton, Kentucky
Coordinates: 38.605241°N 85.170261°W
Incident type: Head-on collision resulting in catastrophic fire of bus
Cause: Pickup truck driver driving under the influence in wrong direction; Egress difficulties impairing bus evacuation (secondary)
Deaths: 27
Injured: 34

The Carrollton bus collision occurred on May 14, 1988, on Interstate 71 in unincorporated Carroll County, Kentucky. The collision involved a former school bus in use by a church youth group and a pickup truck driven by an alcohol-impaired driver. The head-on collision was the deadliest incident involving drunk driving and the third-deadliest bus crash in U.S. history. Of the 67 people on the bus (counting the driver), there were 27 fatalities in the crash, the same number as the 1958 Prestonsburg bus disaster, and behind the 1976 Yuba City bus disaster (29) and 1963 Chualar bus crash (32).

In the aftermath of the disaster, several family members of victims became active leaders of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and one—Karolyn Nunnallee—became national president of the organization. The standards for both operation and equipment for school buses and similar buses were improved in Kentucky and many other states. These include an increased number of emergency exits, higher standards for structural integrity, and the use of less volatile diesel fuel. On Interstate 71, the crash site is marked with a highway sign erected by the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet. Memorial items such as crosses and flower arrangements are regularly placed at the site by families and friends.



At 10:55 p.m., while heading south on Interstate 71 outside of Carrollton, Kentucky, the bus collided almost head-on with a black 1987 Toyota 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. Mahoney later admitted he had been drinking in a bar and at a friend's house prior to the collision. Police also found a twelve-pack of Miller Lite beer in Mahoney's truck which was still cold and had several cans missing.

During the collision, the left rear of the pickup truck spun 90 degrees to the right and, while doing so, struck the left side of a 1977 Cadillac Sedan de Ville heading in the same direction of the bus causing damage to the back driver's door and vinyl roof. The car had broken glass along with red plastic material that was from the taillight lens of the Toyota. The right front of the pickup truck struck 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 step well for the front door, rendering the door inoperative. 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.

Nobody aboard the bus was seriously injured by the actual collision between the two vehicles (though both vehicle drivers sustained injuries). However, the impact of the collision created a secondary situation, as the right front suspension of the Ford chassis broke off through the bus stepwell, puncturing the gasoline fuel tank and igniting the fuel supply. 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 to the ground.

A survivor recounted the accident and the quick time between everything, stating: "We knew we hit something, and...all the kids got up in the aisle thinking we were gonna get off. And within 20 second you felt the heat come in the bus. You started hearing kids crying and screaming for their mom, panicking. That's when everybody started pushing on everybody to go one way." Another remembered startling awake after the accident and attempting to escape through a window but it refused to open, before rushing to the back.

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. According to the NTSB investigation, more than 60 persons trying to reach the only available exit (the rear emergency door) created a crush of bodies in the 12 inch-wide aisle. Many passengers found themselves unable to move. A beverage cooler which had been earlier placed in the aisle near row 10 (of 11 rows of seats) further exacerbated this problem. A pileup of passengers formed in and adjacent to the twelve-inch (30 cm) 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.

Attempts by some of the other passengers to break or kick out any of the split-sash-type side windows were unsuccessful. Only one adult, a woman who was of small stature, managed to escape through a nine-inch (23 cm) 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. Passersby and some of the escaped passengers helped to extract immobilized children through the rear door, and help them to ground level about 3 ft (0.91 m) below. A survivor recounted how when he reached the back door; "Someone on the outside grabbed my arm, put their foot on the bumper and literally pulled me out. I hit the asphalt and started running...I could hear the screams and the explosions."

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 mostly injured survivors. Soon the entire interior of the bus flashed over, ultimately burning the trapped 27 people remaining aboard. At that point, no more passengers were accessible from outside the bus.

After fire, rescue, and Kentucky State Police troopers 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, the KSP and the Carroll County coroner went through the interior of the bus seat by seat to find and remove bodies. Most of the bodies were burned beyond recognition.


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Reply On this day, May 14, 1988, the Carrollton bus collision happened. (Original post)
mahatmakanejeeves May 14 OP
luvs2sing May 14 #1

Response to mahatmakanejeeves (Original post)

Sat May 14, 2022, 11:34 AM

1. I still remember that horrific event.

And if you drive 71 between Cincinnati and Louisville, there’s a sign marking the spot to refresh your memory.

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