May 14, 1988: A drunk driver goes for a spin in Carrollton, Kentucky. The Assembly of God church from Radcliff, Kentucky sponsored a youth day at Kings Island theme park, north of Cincinnati, Ohio – about 170 miles away. They traveled by the church’s bus (an old school bus) – a 1977 Ford B-700 chassis with a Superior school bus body. There were 11 rows of 39 inch wide seats on either side of the bus and a 12 inch wide aisle between them. The bus had been part of a Kentucky Department of Schools order placed in 1976 with over 600 buses purchased. Important for legal reasons, the vehicle was designated as a school bus with a build date of March 23, 1977. This was nine days before a mandate to install a fuel tank guard went into effect along with other safety measures.
The legal limit for the bus was 66 passengers and the driver. That is exactly how many people were able to go to the amusement park. The pastor only allowed the legal number of teenagers and chaperones (four) on the bus even though more than anticipated had shown up for the day’s events. The bus was driven by John Pearman, an associate pastor at the church. His day job was as a local court clerk. The group headed out early in the morning and enjoyed their day at the park. They were on their way back home and about an hour into the return trip, the bus stopped to fill the 60-tank with gasoline before getting back on the road to get home.
At 10.55 PM, a 34-year-old drunk factory worker was driving his black Toyota pickup truck on the wrong side of the interstate’s divided highway. The truck and bus hit almost head-on, impacting on the right side of the bus, which broke the bus’s suspension and drove a spring backwards into the gas tank mounted behind a panel but outside the heavier frame. The tank was mounted just behind the step well to the front door and the front door would not open. Sparks ignited the dripping gasoline and the fire spread rapidly due to the composition of the seats which not only burned but produced a thick noxious smoke.
There were no immediate injuries from the impact, but the bus became a superheated (up to ⁰F 2000) smoky cocoon with only one exit in the back of the bus. People were trying to emerge with far too few success stories. The only adult survivor was a small woman who managed to crawl through a window. There were 27 people trapped inside the bus when the entire bus was engulfed in flames. Of the escaped passengers 34 were hurt and only six were able to get out without serious injury. The driver was also injured in the accident. He had been arrested for DUI on a previous occasion and on this date had a blood alcohol level of .24 (about 2.5 times the legal limit). He didn’t even know about the accident until he woke up in the hospital. Because of the incident, bus design changed along with regulations for church buses.
About 10:55 p.m. EDT on May 14, 1988, a pickup truck traveling northbound in the southbound lanes of Interstate 71 struck head-on a church activity bus traveling southbound in the left lane of the highway near Carrollton, Kentucky.
As the pickup truck rotated during impact, it struck a passenger car traveling southbound in the right lane near the church bus.
The church bus fuel tank was punctured during the collision sequence, and a fire ensued, engulfing the entire bus.
The bus driver and 26 bus passengers were fatally injured. Thirty-four bus passengers sustained minor to critical injuries, and six bus passengers were not injured. The pickup truck driver sustained serious injuries, but neither occupant of the passenger car was injured. – the National Transportation Safety Board’s report
Also on this day: Lewis and Clark – In 1804, the Expedition began a 28 month journey.
Gerardo – In 1939, five year old Lina gave birth to a son.
Summer Olympics – In 1900, the Paris Summer Olympics began.
Smallpox Vaccine – In 1796, the first smallpox vaccine was administered.
Israel Established – In 1948, a new nation was born.