Tragedies often occur without warning.
A poor decision, a quirk of timing, a crash, flames, smoke, death: Suddenly, a tiring but exciting Saturday of amusement park fun endedon a dark,lonely stretch of interstate miles from home.
For 27 people — 24 children — the moment of horror was brief.Survivors of that fateful collision that’s come to be known as the Carrollton bus crash still live with a mix of frightening memories and scars of mind and body.
It was 1988, long before our cell phone society developed, and news of the horrifying reality found its way slowly to Radcliff. Parents waiting for their children to return from a Church Day outing at Kings Island in Ohio experienced a growing sense of worry, dread, fear and panic.
The shock and remorse spread. Families were brought to their knees. A church congregation was devastated by its grief. By Sunday morning, all of Radcliff was encased by the overwhelming cloud of disbelief, sorrow and sadness.
The tragedy absorbed the days to come.The identification ofbodies, a caravan of hearses, hospital visits, counseling sessions, a community memorial, private funerals packed the calendar along with social and safety questions about drunken driving, school bus safety and pursuit of justice.
Twenty years after the pain, the memories still resonate. The memorial to “Our Precious Loss” rests alongside Logsdon Parkwaywithin sight of schools which the young victims attended or one day would have attended.
When young people die, we are left with countless thoughts ofwhat might have been. On the 20th anniversary of the 27 deaths, instead consider a few realities of the bus crash’s aftermath.
School buses are safer. The church-owned, second-hand school bus, which became a charred piece of evidence, was analyzed in greatest detail.
It’s unlikely that a fire will ever occur in the same way. Gasoline tanks in today’s buses are surrounded by metal cages and contain less volatile fuel. New buses include fold-down windows which provide additional emergency exits. Equipment carriers follow teams, bands and field trips so that luggage and equipment no longer is allowed to block the aisle. The pulsing white light has become a fixture atop all buses making it easier to spot them in the darkest and foggiest settings.
Drunken driving persists. Years after Larry Mahoney’s vehicle crossed the Interstate 71 median to trigger this tragedy, poor decisions still are being made and lives are being lost.
But the situation is not without hope. One mother of a bus crash victim became national president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Countless others have dedicated themselves to the cause of reminding a nation of the importance of responsible choices. We never may know the full value of those efforts, because good choices mean other families and other communities never will experience the same pain. Because of the many fatalities,it wasdeclared the worst drunken driving crash in U.S. history. Today, it’s possible to rejoice in the fact that it’s never been repeated and pray its place in history remains.
And we learned that tragedy can be unifying. People cried together and cared for each other in many personal and private ways.
A community rose to the occasion. Each person touched by the tragedy holds memories of neighborsand friends who offeredcomfort, reassurance and gestures of support. Sharing pain somehow makes it more possible to bear.
And in the process, we learned about ourselves. Perhaps 20 years have dulled the impulse, but the jarring reality of a tragedy without warning made us quicker to express our appreciation and love for family and friends — even strangers.
That’s a lesson that should become our legacy.