A survivor of the May 14, 1988 Carrollton bus crash, as well as Grayson County Sheriff Norman Chaffins spoke to Grayson County High School freshman this week to encourage them to make choices that will best protect their safety.
Chaffins opened the presentation, held on Wednesday morning, May 18, with a discussion about his own experiences with the dangers of distracted and impaired driving, both as a law enforcement officer and in his personal life.
Chaffins told students that, as a Kentucky State Police accident re-constructionist, he worked over 150 fatality crashes, which were also more than 100 times he had to tell someone that his or her loved one had died and would never make it home.
Chaffins spoke about the importance of driving safely and the number of crashes he has investigated that were the result of the operator of the vehicle texting and driving.
“Every decision you make has a consequence,” said Chaffins. “When you text and drive, you’re not just affecting yourself.”
Chaffins also told students about his experiences as the child of an alcoholic father, who quit drinking eight years before his death as a result of medical issues deriving from alcohol abuse.
“Alcohol ruins lives,” Chaffins said. “Texting and driving ruins lives.”
To further drive home the message of driving safely, Chaffins asked his friend Darrin Jaquess, a survivor of the Carrollton bus crash that claimed the lives of 27 people—the deadliest drunk driving accident in U.S. history—to speak to students about his experience.
Jaquess, the child of single mother, moved from Columbus, OH, to Kentucky in 1986 as a freshman in high school.
In his sophomore year of high school, Jaquess was given the opportunity to go on a church trip to King’s Island, which, as a child of an underprivileged family, was his first time going to an amusement park.
Jaquess said he had a great time at King’s Island, but there was the feeling that something bad was about to happen.
On the way home, at a stop, Jaquess said, he overheard the driver of the bus tell his daughter, “No matter what happens, I love you.”
Jaquess fell asleep on the drive home before waking a short time later to the sound of a crash and what he described as fire coming through the bus.
A drunk driver, Larry Mahoney, had driven on the wrong side of Interstate 71 and crashed head-on into the school bus, which then burst into flames.
24 children and three of the four adults on the bus were killed. 40 people, including the bus driver’s daughter, survived. Among the dead were the bus driver, according to Jaquess.
“I lost my best friend who invited me on this trip,” said Jaquess. “I lost other people I met on this trip. I went from being…a 15-year-old boy to a 15-year-old young man.”
Now 44, Jaquess still feels the trauma from the crash, literally and figuratively. His right hand suffered burns in the collision, and he is questioned a lot about it.
“I don’t have a problem talking about it,” Jaquess said. “In fact, it’s more counseling for me.”
Jaquess also has a 21-year-old son of his own now, and the hardest part of that birthday was knowing he could now buy alcohol.
He thinks a lot about choices and consequences, and the importance of learning.
“If someone has a story to tell you, value the lesson,” Jaquess said.
Mahoney was released from prison in 1999 after serving about nine-and-a-half years of his 16-year prison sentence for several counts of Wanton Endangerment and Manslaughter as a result of the crash.
Jaquess said he has forgiven Mahoney for his actions and assumes he has been rehabilitated.
Following Jaquess, Chaffins reasserted that whether one is successful and steers clear of danger is a result of choices; rather than “how much money you have or don’t have.”
“You need to have a plan for yourself,” said Chaffins. “If you have a history of making good choices, I promise you will be successful. It starts now. You have to make the choice to make good decisions now.”
Reach Matt Lasley at 270-259-9622, ext. 2015.