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Remembering the night 27 people died in Carroll County
Crash survivors to attend 25th anniversary events
, Courier Staff Writer
Saturday, May 11, 2013 5:00 AM
ANNIVERSARY OF TRAGEDY: Carroll County, Ky., Coroner Jim Dunn looks in the driver’s window of the First Assembly of God Church bus from Radcliff, Ky. after the bus was hit by a truck driven by a drunken driver on May 14, 1988. Twenty-seven people died in the accident. (Staff file photos by Mark Campbell)
A church bus full of people was headed home on I-71 in Carroll County, Ky., after a trip to an amusement park 25 years ago.
Many of the passengers never reached their destination 90 minutes down the road.
Twenty-seven people died that night in Carroll County, and the impact from that day still resonates with survivors.
A return trip from King's Island amusement park in Cincinnati, ended in tragedy for children and adults from Radcliff's First Assembly Church of God. Of those on the bus, 27 people - mostly children - were killed and 34 others were injured. Their bus was struck by a truck being driven by a drunk driver.
That was May 14, 1988.
To commemorate the nation's worst drunk-driving crash, several survivors and other family members of those killed that day talk about the tragedy and how their lives were forever changed in a new documentary film, "Impact: After the Crash."
It's the stories of the survivors and the victims' families in the years since the crash that one of the movie's producers and writer Daniel Blake Smith hopes audience members find to be healing and honor the memories of the lives lost 25 years ago.
The idea for a documentary began nearly four years ago while Smith was working with bus crash survivor and former University of Kentucky football player Harold Dennis about a film on his life. While working on that film, titled "The Phoenix," Smith and Dennis discussed the need to bringing awareness to drunk-driving accidents and the Carrollton bus crash that played such a role in Dennis' life.
Soon, Dennis and Smith joined with producer and director Jason Epperson and producer David Geary to begin work on a documentary, "Impact: After the Crash."
The producers began contacting families for stories and photos for the documentary.
"Most of them were - and are - OK with this," Smith said of the film. "This was meant to honor, not exploit."
Still, some families chose not to be part of the documentary, he said. Some chose not to bring back the memories of that May night when so many were killed by one man's decision to drink throughout the day and drive that night.
"We're really trying to honor their memories," Smith said of the victims.
Over a dozen survivors and other people with ties to the tragedy share their memories or how they've dealt with the crash.
The documentary also includes a re-enactment of the bus crash, which was filmed on an interstate loop near Winchester, Ky., in November 2012. Smith noted a generation has grown up in the past 25 years without knowing the details of the crash, and the team felt like the re-enactment was a needed part of the documentary.
"We realized we had to do it," Smith said. "We wanted people to glimpse and feel that tragic event."
Some of the victim's family members participated in the portrayal of the re-enactment, including Rob Pearman, the son of the bus' driver John Pearman. John Pearman was one of the 27 people who died in the crash.
"I thought that was poignant," Smith said. "It was a very moving re-enactment."
A few events this week will be held in remembrance of the 25th anniversary of the bus crash.
A private event will be held in Elizabethtown for survivors, families and other invited guests. A public showing of the movie will be held May 15 in Elizabethtown, but the event sold out of nearly 750 tickets in one day. Other viewings of the documentary will be posted on the film's website, www.theimpactmovie.com.
"We're going to go out in a big way," Smith said. "This is just the beginning."
Following the anniversary showings, producers plan to send the film to festivals in hopes of getting the documentary distributed to a wider audience. Eventually, the documentary will be released on DVD.
In addition to commemorating the anniversary of the crash, Smith and the other producers hope the documentary helps to bring awareness to the dangers and loss that can be caused by drunk driving.
"I'm extremely proud of how this (turned out)," he said.
A grieving town remembers bus crash victims
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