Memories haven't faded
Carrollton bus crash survivors attend movie premier
Thursday, May 16, 2013 11:00 AM
ELIZABETHTOWN, Ky. - Christy Pearman never imagined the last conversation she would have with her father would be about kissing her "crush" for the first time on a church field trip 25 years ago.
It was only a few miles after a stop where the father and daughter talked, that a drunk driver slammed into the church bus she and 66 other people were riding in while returning from King's Island in Cincinnati.
Twenty-seven people never made it out of the bus that night in Carroll County - including Pearman's father, who was the bus driver.
Pearman and Wayne Cox, her "crush," survived the accident, but not without burns and emotional scars.
Still, the couple married years after the accident that changed their lives forever.
Several hundred guests and state officials gathered Wednesday night for the public premiere of "Impact: After the Crash," a documentary about the Carroll County bus crash. They heard Pearman's story and stories from other survivors on how their lives have been since the accident.
The event, held at the Hardin County Schools Performing Arts Center, was the second day of events held in the Radcliff area to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the crash.
The documentary featured stories about the 27 people who died that day, survivors' memories about the crash, and the healing that's taken place since 1988.
The film followed the recovery of the dozens of injured people, including former University of Kentucky football player Harold Dennis and North Hardin school bus driver Quinton Higgins Jr., and some of the parents who lost children that day, including former national MADD president Karolyn Nunnallee.
"We're here not to dwell on this tragedy," Kentucky's First Lady Jane Beshear said before the showing of the documentary. Instead, the producers hoped to focus on the years after the crash. "We must use the memories of that day to prevent (tragedies) of the future."
The documentary began with several people remembering the morning of the trip starting out as any other. Children couldn't wait for the annual trip to get under way, and the day at the park was uneventful.
But the bus from Radcliff's First Assembly of God never made it back to Hardin County.
Instead, the bus was struck by a pick-up truck traveling the wrong way on the interstate. The truck's driver, Larry Mahoney, had been drinking throughout the day and made the choice to get behind the wheel. He had crossed the median and traveled approximately three-tenths of a mile going the wrong way and passed about 14 vehicles, before striking the church bus, police officials said in the film.
The crash caused the bus' unprotected gas tank to puncture, and the bus caught fire about two seconds after the impact. None of the 27 killed that night died from blunt force trauma of the crash, officials said in the documentary.
"Impact: After the Crash" provided what many members of the audience called a good balance of reactions to the crash - from addressing the issue of drunk driving and the safety requirements the church bus lacked that night to the legal settlements and continuing medical treatments for survivors years later.
The film also provided information about Mahoney, who bus crash survivor Ciaran Madden called "a country boy that made a mistake." Mahoney did not respond to multiple attempts for interviews, producers said.
Bus crash survivor Darrin Jaquess said he had been a "knucklehead running around Radcliff" before that night, but the crash changed his life. While he'd like to hear from Mahoney, Jaquess doesn't hold on to anger or resentment anymore, he said.
"I owe a lot to the man," Darrin Jaquess said. "I had to become an adult at a very young age."
Other survivors feel the same way, saying anger or resentment toward Mahoney causes them even more pain from that day in May 1988. Higgins said his forgiveness comes in the lack of fear he feels whenever he steps onto his bus every day.
"If this hadn't happened to us, I don't know where we would be," Higgins said.