3 Bills Stemming From Nation's Worst Drunk Driving Accident Fail in Kentucky
Mar. 30, 1990
FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) _ State lawmakers failed to pass three bills stemming from the nation's worst drunken-driving accident.
''It's just a sad day for Kentucky that we can't get them through,'' said Sen. Virgil Pearman, whose nephew was the church bus driver killed with 26 other people in the fiery crash.
The bills - which would have toughened drunken-driving laws, added a left- side door to school buses and created a felony crime of vehicular homicide when a drunken driver caused traffic deaths - effectively were defeated Thursday.
Pearman said his advocacy of bills on other major state issues - local control of solid waste and community health systems - may have hurt the highway safety measures.
''Maybe I was shoving too much too fast on some hot topics,'' said Pearman, a Democrat.
The bills cleared the Senate with little or no opposition but stalled in House committees during the final days of the 1990 legislative session.
As a result, the legislature passed no bills directly related to the May 1988 crash. A pickup truck slammed into a church bus on Interstate 71 near Carrollton in northern Kentucky, killing 24 children and three adults returning from a church outing.
Larry Mahoney was driving drunk when his pickup, on the wrong side of the highway, crashed head-on into the bus. Mahoney was convicted of manslaughter, assault, wanton endangerment and drunken driving, and was sentenced to 16 years in prison. He is appealing the case.
Pearman's nephew, John, 37, was the bus driver. He died trying to save his passengers. His uncle believed the national attention given the crash and Mahoney's trial would help the legislation he backed.
''I thought it was possible with all the publicity,'' Pearman said. ''I'm devastated that the things are all dead.
''But that's the way the system works. You never know. I've been here for 15 years and I've had my ups and downs. This is just one of the down years.''
The drunken-driving bill would have made it illegal to drive with a certain blood-alcohol level. Kentucky is one of just a handful of states not to have such wording in their drunken-driving law. Instead, drivers in the state are merely presumed to be drunk when their blood-alcohol reading reaches .10 percent; critics say such wording makes it easier for people accused of drunken driving to avoid convictions.
Another key section would have allowed the revocation of a driver's license before the trial of some people charged with DUI. That section had raised concerns from some Democratic House leaders.
''If you lose your driver's license ... and you live in a remote area of my couty, you don't have a mass transit system to get to work,'' said House Majority Leader Greg Stumbo.