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Kentucky County Where 27 Died On Bus Votes On Future Of Alcohol

October 5, 1988

CARROLLTON, Ky. (AP) _ Voters decided Tuesday to let the sale of alcohol continue in the county where a church bus crash blamed on a drunken driver killed 27 people, most of them children.

The voter turnout was one of the highest ever recorded in the northern Kentucky’s Carroll County, with groups on both sides of the issue providing rides to the polls for voters.

The referendum was made up of two votes - one on whether to ban the sale of alcohol in Carroll County and a separate vote for Carollton; one could be dry and the other wet.

In Carroll County, 1,173 voted for the status quo, while 750 voted against it. In the city of Carrollton, 1,211 voted to retain legal liquor sales, while 450 voted to ban them.

Chuck Webster, leader of Citizens for the Legal Sale of Alcohol, said the bus crash influenced some people to vote on the side of the wets.

″A lot of people took it personally. They felt by voting no, it would be accepting some responsibility for the bus crash,″ Webster said.

Trudy Mahoney, a spokeswoman for the pro-dry organization Citizens for a Better Life, said the group accomplished its goal of letting the people decide.

″We did accomplish what we set out to do. We gave the people the chance to vote,″ she said. ″I’m sorry we didn’t win, but we gave the people the opportunity to say what they wanted.″

Earlier Tuesday, Debbie Roeder, a member of Citizens for a Better Life, said the vote ″has been wanted for many years. The bus crash probably did prompt people into action, whereas before they thought, ‘Whats the sense?’ ″

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The issue has burned in the county since May 14, when a pickup truck driven by Larry Mahoney collided head-on with a church bus on Interstate 71. Twenty- four of the victims of the fiery crash were children.

Authorities said Mahoney was drunk at the time. He has been charged with murder, drunken driving and other counts.

Ms. Roeder said opponents of alcohol elsewhere had a keen interest in the results of the Carrollton voting.

″If a little town the size of Carrollton that has as many liquor establishments as it’s got can actually vote it dry, it’s like ’Hey, maybe we can do this,‴ she said.

There are 37 places in the county selling beer, including gas stations and convenience stores, according to the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce.

The county has about 9,200 residents, including Carrollton’s population of about 3,900.

″This vote has been wanted for many years,″ said Ms. Roeder. ″The bus crash probably did prompt people into action, whereas before they thought: ’What’s the sense?‴

″The problem here is ... the majority of drinkers have been very irresponsible,″ she said.

At the opposite extreme, the ″wets″ led by Citizens for the Legal Sale of Alcoholic Beverages argued that banning alcohol sales would be both a financial and moral burden.

″I voted wet, I don’t mind telling you. I firmly believe in it. My 88- year-old mother believes in it,″ said Louise Fitzpatrick, 54. ″There would be a lot of bootleggers and more accidents″ if liquor were banned.

The dry forces estimated they spent less than $1,000 on newspaper advertisements but no radio commercials.

The wet forces spent about $6,000 on an extensive newspaper and radio campaign.

The Carroll County clerk’s office said 520 new voters had been registered, boosting the total eligible for the referendum to 6,039, the largest number of registered voters in a decade.

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