Survivors Remember the Nation’s Deadliest Drunken Driving Crash

Bus accident attorneys at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm point to a recent article by USA TODAY, returning back to the country’s most fatal drunken driving crash. It occurred in 1988 in Kentucky, when a Kentucky motorist got on the wrong side of a high way and crashed, head-on, into a school bus filled with children.

The school bus was carrying nearly 70 people, 25 of whom lost their lives after the bus’ gas tank ruptured, sparking a blazing fire. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the crash, inspiring a documentary, directed by Jason Epperson, about the survivors and regulatory consequences of the crash.

Besides spurring major changes in the regulation and operation of school buses, the accident led to much stronger DUI laws and a change in national thought surrounding drinking and driving. Before the crash, driving while inebriated did not have the negative stigma attached to it as it now does. Particularly in more rural states, such as Kentucky, drunken driving was largely commonplace.

The crash occurred around 11 p.m., as the bus was carrying a group of teenagers home from a trip to a theme park near Cincinnati. Larry Wayne Mahoney, 34, was drunk behind the wheel of his black Toyota pickup when he entered Interstate 71 going the wrong way. He hit the school bus head-on.

One survivor was asleep at the time, saying that the bus burst into flames almost instantly, creating mass chaos inside the vehicle, where the middle row was only 12 inches wide. Most passengers suffered third degree burns, many had to have legs amputated.

One of these victims was Carey Cummins, who is now 39 and a full-time mom. She was 14 at the time of the accident, sitting directly in the line of impact. She initially lost consciousness, but woke herself up, urging herself not to perish on the bus. Her legs had fourth-degree burns, and she couldn’t walk, instead pulling herself from seat to seat until she reached the back of the bus, falling out onto the ground. Her right leg had to be amputated from the knee down. Cummins is now a nurse, wife and mother, saying the event made her a stronger person.

The mother of a child, ten at the time, who died in the crash, later became an advocate for school bus safety and drunken driving prevention. In 1998, ten years after her daughter’s death, she became president of MADD. The current national president of MADD states that the documentary is a reminder of how much work is still left to be done. Every single day, 27 people are killed in drunken driving crashes in the United States.

To find a silver lining on such a horrific accident is difficult, however, since that night, school buses throughout the country are now considerably safer, with major improvements in gas tanks, emergency exists, and fuel types.

This is not to say crashes involving school buses are no longer an issue that needs attention. Just a few weeks ago, in early April 2013, a bus collided with two SUVs, killing one of the drivers and injuring dozens of elementary students on board. Witnesses initially told investigators that the bus driver ran a red light at an intersection on Highway 173, T-boning a Jeep Wrangler, the driver of which was killed.

The school bus was knocked on its side, about 30 yards from the intersection, with its windows broken out. About 12 students were sent to the hospital by ambulance, although most were not seriously injured, which officials attributed to the high seatbacks on the bus.

Bus crash lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm highlight these stories to heighten public awareness of the very real dangers our school buses still pose. Although there has been significant strides made in safety, other measures such as seat belt use and airbags are still needed on our nation’s school buses. If you or a loved one was seriously injured in a bus accident, you have important legal rights, and may be entitled to significant compensation.


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