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By Amber Coulter
Harold “Bubba” Dennis was disoriented and afraid after a pickup truck driving the wrong direction on Interstate 71 in Carroll County crashed into the bus in which he was traveling on a Saturday night 23 years ago.
He knew there had been a crash, but he didn’t know right away the bus was on fire or the driver of the pickup truck was intoxicated.
Dennis, a former North Hardin High School athlete and University of Kentucky football player, said he was fortunate to get from his seat, the fifth back from the front of the bus, to the rear exit, where he was pulled out by a passerby.
Of the 67 passengers headed to King’s Island on May 14, 1988, 27 died and 34 were injured. Only six passengers escaped without significant injuries.
Dennis, who now lives in Lexington, wants young people to learn from the experience and make more responsible decisions about underage drinking and drinking and driving.
He’s on the production team for a documentary about the crash, and he’s the only member of the team who was personally involved in the nation’s worst drinking and driving crash.
Dennis will tell his story alongside other survivors in the documentary “IMPACT: After the Crash.”
“It’s been something that’s been on my mind and something I’ve wanted to get done for a long time now,” he said.
Producers plan to make the film available for free to schools to help students understand potential consequences of making poor decisions in regards to alcohol, Dennis said.
He said his 15-year-old daughter likely understands the dangers of irresponsible alcohol use better than most people her age because she has heard about her father’s experience in the bus crash.
The event also should be commemorated, Dennis said.
“This is a historical event,” he said. “This is part of U.S. history.”
Dennis said it’s so important to tell the story and have an impact on young people that the production team plans to approach Larry Mahoney, who was driving the pickup truck in the crash.
Dennis has never spoken to Mahoney, but he hopes the man will tell his story in the documentary and help to reach more young people.
The documentary is being directed by Jason Epperson of Clark County. He was runner-up on the Fox reality show “On the Lot,” which featured filmmakers in elimination competitions.
The documentary recently received a $40,000 grant from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, which was administered by Kentucky State Police.
Showing the documentary in schools could help students better understand the potential consequences of making poor decisions in regards to drinking, said Trooper John Hawkins, who works with the public affairs branch of KSP headquarters in Frankfort.
He said students often respond better to messages from peers than from adults, and he hopes the documentary will be effective in influencing their actions.
“Any time you can affect youth through education, we’re all for it,” Hawkins said.
Some studies show that nearly half of middle and high school students across the state have consumed alcohol. About 51 percent of students who have consumed alcohol were given it by a family member, Hawkins said.
“Believe it,” he said.
Dennis said the grant likely will allow the production team to begin filming the documentary within the next 45 to 60 days.
Producers are exploring various possibilities to raise the remaining $50,000 or $60,000 required to shoot the film the way they want.
Donations are accepted through the film’s website, www.theimpactmovie.com.