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Medical Examiner Discusses Autopsies Of Bus Crash Victims

July 22, 1988

CARROLLTON, Ky. (AP) _ A grand jury indicted the wrong-way driver of a pickup truck that crashed into a church bus May 14 on 27 counts of murder today, rejecting charges that could have brought the death penalty.

Authorities contend Larry Mahoney, 35, of Worthville, was drunk when his truck collided with the bus on Interstate 71 near Carrollton. Twenty-four children and three adults died after the bus gas tank burst into flames.

State police had charged Mahoney with capital murder, which could have brought the electric chair. At the request of the attorney genral’s office, the grand jury returned charges carrying 20 years to life in prison on each count.

″After investigating into the law and evidence, we concluded it would not be appropriate to make this a death penalty case,″ Attorney General Fred Cowan said. He did not elaborate.

Mahoney also was indicted on 44 counts of wanton endangerment, 13 of assault and one of driving under the influence of alcohol.

The victims died of smoke inhalation, Kentucky’s medical examiner, Dr. George Nichols, said today.

Traces of alcohol in the blood of four victims probably did not come from drinking but from a natural process - fermentation of blood sugar after death, he said at a news conference at Humana Hospital University-Louisville.

Nichols would not identify the four children by sex, age or name. He has said none of the adults aboard the bus had been drinking. Some of the crash survivors have said none of the young people had been drinking.

The bus owned by Radcliffe Assembly of God church was carrying a youth group home from an outing at an amusement park in Ohio.

Carroll County Commonwealth Attorney John Ackman Jr. had recommended capital murder charges but suffered a heart attack shortly after the accident, prompting the state attorney general’s office to take over the case.

″I’m sure he made what he thought was the best judgment at the time, based on what he knew,″ Cowan said today.

The state’s chief prosecutor in the case, Paul Richwalksky, said he met with more than 40 families of the victims Thursday night and explained to them the less serious charge the state would be recommending today.

″We had a frank and candid discussion. If anyone was disappointed or disagreed, they didn’t verbalize it to me,″ Richwalksky said.

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