Carrollton, KY Pickup Truck and Bus Collision, May 1988
27 DEAD AS PICKUP, CHURCH BUS COLLIDE.
Carrollton, Ky. (AP) -- A bus carrying a church group home from an amusement park became a fiery deathtrap when a pickup truck traveling the wrong way on an interstate crashed into it, killing 27 people, authorities said.
It was one of the worst bus accidents in U.S. history, the National Transportation Safety Board said. Between 20 and 40 people were injured in the crash, many suffering from burns.
The bus, carrying 67 teen-agers and adults from the First Assembly of God Church in Radcliff, about 35 miles south of Louisville, was headed south on Interstate 71 when the accident occurred about 10:55 p.m. Saturday. The group was returning from King's Island amusement park north of Cincinnati.
As word of the accident spread, distraught relatives clutching dental and medical records arrived here Sunday to help identify the dead.
The U.S. Army provided vans to transport family members from Radclilff to Carrollton, about 75 miles away, and state police escorted the parents ot a local hotel.
State Medical Examiner DR. GEORGE NICHOLS met with about 60 family members at the Holiday Inn at about noon. He said he would not allow family members to view the badly burned remains.
"The picture ... of their children in that room is not what they have in their memories or wallets," he said.
The parents and family members were secluded in the banquet room of the hotel, where Red Cross workers were taking down family medical hostories in an effort to identify the dead.
At least eight of the injured, including the truck driver, were in critical condition Sunday, according to police and hospital officials.
"I just heard a crash, felt the impact of the car (truck) and looked up and saw flames," said 14-year-old WAYNE COX, an asthmatic who suffered smoke inhalation. "They spread pretty fast ... I was pinned. Everything was pretty wild. I was under a lot of people. That's probably what saved me from getting burned."
The flames quickly worked their way from the front to the rear of the bus, survivors said, leaving only the back door and windows as escape routes.
COX, a Radcliff Middle School eighth-grader, said he lost his shoes while wiggling out of the bus. His blond hair was singed by the flames and his shirt was charred.
JASON BOOHER, 13, also an eight-grade student at Radcliff Middle School, said he and another youth helped pull people out of the bus.
BOOHER said he assisted survivors on the ground outside the back door, while a Meade County High School student, JAMIE HARDESTY, stood just inside the door and pushed people out.
"JAMIE, he pushed everyone out," BOOHER said. "He was up in the bus and I was out the back door of the bus, helping those who were hurt."
BOOHER said JAMIE played "a big part. He saved a lot."
PATRICK PRESLEY, a truck driver from Dallas and one of the first on the scene, said a second explosion filled the bus with flames and smoke and prevented more rescues after the initial impact.
The charred hull of the bus -- with bodies still inside -- was moved to the National Guard armory in Carrollton at 7:30 a.m. A handful of family members looked on as the wreckage, shrouded by a large tarp, entered the back of the armory, which is serving as the morgue, State Police Trooper JIM MUDD said.
At midafternoon, DR. NICHOLS announced that the number of bodies found on the bus was 27. Earlier, the death toll had been given as at least 26.
Carroll County Coroner JAMES DUNN said the bus had been refueled just before the accident. He speculated the gas tank may have ruptured, spewing gas all over the bus and passengers.
Tpr. MUDD said it was not known how long or why the Toyota pickup was traveling the wrong way on the interstate.
No charges have been filed against the driver, LARRY W. MAHONEY, 34, of Worthville in Carroll County.
DR. NICHOLS said, "visual identification is impossible" and said the process of identifying the bodies through dental charts and other clues could take several days.
"This is a horrible task for anyone who cares for human life ... for such a joyous occasion to end in such sad tragedy," Tpr. MUDD said.
DENNY BROWN, chief of the Campbellsburg Volunteer Fire Department, the first to arrive on the scene, said the survivors "were standing all the way up and down the road here."
STEVE WATKINS, youth minister at the Ghent Baptist Church near Carrollton, was among those called in to help counsel the parents.
"They're in shock; that's all I can say," he said.
The Radcliff church held a special prayer service Sunday as the family members of those killed began their trek to Carrollton.
ALAN POLLOCK, a spokesman for the NTSB in Washington, D.C., said a team of investigators had been dispatched.
"Obviously, they will be looking at the integrity of the bus."
What is believed to be the worst bus accident in U.S. history occurred in 1976 when a school bus carrying 53 Yuba City, Calif., high school students plunged off a freeway, killing 28 students and a teacher.
The Frederick Post Maryland 1988-05-16
List of Fatalaties in the truck/bus collision as taken off the Cemetery Memorial:
JEANETTE ANN ARNETT.
CYNTHIA ANNE ATHERTON.
SANDY JEAN BREWER.
JOSHUA MICHAEL CONVERS.
MARY CATHERYN DANIELS.
JULIE A. EARNEST.
KASHAWN R. ETHERIDGE.
SHANNON RAE FAIR.
DWAILLA DAWN FISCHEL.
RICHARD KEITH GOHN.
LORI KATHLEEN HOLZER.
CHARLES JOHN KYTTA.
APRIL LuANN MILLS.
PHILIP LEE MORGAN.
TINA M. MUSTAIN.
WILLIAM J. NICHOLS, JR.
JOHN ROBERT PEARMAN, driver.
EMILLIE SUZANNE THOMPSON.
CRYSTAL ERIN UHEY.
DENISE ELLEN VOGLUND.
AMY CHRISTINE WHEELOCK.
CHAD ANTHONY WITT.
KRISTEN JOY WILLIAMS.
M. JOY WILLIAMS.
ROBIN JILL WILLIAMS.