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60 Years Later, Historic Floyd Co. Bus Crash Still Haunts Studen - LEX18.com | Continuous News and StormTracker Weather

60 Years Later, Historic Floyd Co. Bus Crash Still Haunts Students

Posted: Feb 28, 2018 05:20 PM Updated: Feb 28, 2018 06:23 PM

FLOYD COUNTY, Ky. (LEX 18) -- Feb. 28, 1958, is a day John Crum will never forget.

"I watched it all," the Prestonsburg man said, choked back tears, as he stood near the exact spot where his life and the lives of so many others in Floyd County changed.

Sixty years ago, 26 students and the bus driver were killed when bus No. 27 crashed in the Big Sandy River, on the outskirts of the small eastern Kentucky town.

At the time, it was the worst bus crash in this country's history, only to be topped by the 1976 Yuba City bus disaster (29) and 1963 Chualar bus crashes (32).

"My children went to school in Ohio. They never rode the school bus. I wouldn't have let them," Crum said. He said he skipped school that very morning to avoid a biology test. "I was supposed to be on that bus."

The bus had 48 students on it at the time of the crash. As it was heading toward the Prestonsburg schools on U.S. Highway 23, the driver somehow ran off the road and crashed into the river. Twenty-two students managed to swim and escape; 27 people did not make it out alive.

"I saw children try to get out of those school bus windows. I seen (the students) kicking the door open," recalled Crum, now in his 80s.

"Nobody knew what to do. Friends, family members, the National Guard, business leaders, try to get equipment down there and try to figure out what was going on," said Timothy Cooley with the Floyd County Rescue Squad.

Cooley said two months after the disaster, the genesis of the state's first rescue squad came to reality. The first chief of the Floyd County Rescue Squad lost all three of his children from the historic crash.

Six decades later, it is still not fully known what exactly caused the driver to lose control and slam into the icy waters of the Big Sandy. Crum was sympathetic, saying the crash stems from mechanical failure.

He later, ironically, worked in the auto industry -- including fixing buses.

"One by one, I tell them guys to build them as good as you can because the most precious cargo on earth is on them buses," he said. "I knew just about every one of those kids."

The Floyd County disaster in 1958 had some eerie similarities to another Kentucky fatal bus crash: in Carrollton, Kentucky, on Interstate Highway 71, almost 30 years later on May 14, 1988. Just like in the crash in Prestonsburg, 27 people lost their lives.

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