The 1958 Bus Disaster: 50 Years Later - Part 1

By: Steve Hensley Email
By: Steve Hensley Email

An eastern Kentucky county is still haunted by a terrible school bus accident that happened 50 years ago.

On February 28th, 1958 at 8:10am, a school bus loaded with 48 elementary and high school students was headed to Prestonsburg on old route 23.

For reasons still uncertain to this day the driver did not see a tow truck in front of him that was getting ready to pull a vehicle out of a ditch, until it was too late and he crashed into it, crossed the road, sideswiped a parked car, then rolled down an embankment into the swollen and cold Levisa Fork of the Big Sandy River.

Twenty-seven people, including the driver, died.

There were 22 other survivors.

Judge Executive Doc Marshall will never forget that day.

He was supposed to be on the bus, but it didn't make it to pick him up.

He knew everyone that died.

“It was just like they vanished that day,” Marshall said.

A few months ago, Marshall helped unveil a new monument to honor the victims in front of the old Floyd County Courthouse.

“When I look at these names, I put a picture, a face, an actual person,” Marshall said.

The road where the accident happened 50 years ago hasn't really changed that much with one big exception a guardrail wasn't there to prevent the bus from plunging into the river.

Eighty-five year old Rebecca Jarrell lost her only two children in the crash.

Bucky Ray was 15 and Katie Carol was 13.

“I never thought I'd live 50 years after they were gone, but the Lord let me stay here for some reason,” Jarrell said.

Jarrell says the accident nearly ended her life too.

“I thought well I'll just kill myself and get out of this but then the Lord was just right there in front of me and he said that's not the way out of it,” Jarrell said.

Jarrell says she often wondered why some children were spared, while hers didn't make it.

“Wasn't I the mother I should have been? I've questioned that. Was I the mother I should have been that I had to give my kids up, but i don't know. One thing's for sure… when I leave here I can go be with them,” Jarrell said.

The pain in Floyd County would continue.

Many survivors still don't want to talk about the crash to this day.
The bus was recovered from the river on March 2nd, several days after the accident.

Many of the bodies were still inside, but some floated away.

The last child wasn't found until May 10th, many weeks after the disaster.

“Our daughter, she was one of the last ones found. She was buried on our boy's birthday, 15th of April,” Jarrell said.

Jarrell says it meant a lot to see the new monument in Prestonsburg and she still hopes to see a historical marker put up at the site of the crash before she dies.

A memorial was also built in the mid 1990's at the Jenny Wiley State Park.

Ironically, the worst church bus accident in U.S. history also happened in Kentucky.

Nearly 20 years ago in May of 1988, twenty-seven people, the same number killed in the Floyd County accident, died when a drunk driver collided with the bus on interstate 71 in Carrollton.

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  • by Laurie Location: Goble on Apr 20, 2010 at 07:22 PM
    This was and is such a life changing day. My prayers go out to each person that is effected by this. I am married to a Goble and I know on down the line we are related to the 3 Goble children invloved. May God's words give you comfort.
  • by michellle Location: Beaver ky on Jul 19, 2008 at 05:39 PM
    As i was reading threw it all i read a part about rebecca jarelle losing her two children in the crash an i just want you to know that im very sorry that happen to you i have two kids of my own an i noticed that you would was talking about how you was wanting to see an historical maker put at the site of the bus crash an i hope you get to see that i would want that too if that ever happen to my children it would also remind people about the children an the bus driver that lost theirs lives there so that the children an the bus driver will be missed but not forgotten i can just imagine how that effected all of eastern Ky but i hope you will live on with your life an i hope you will get to see your beloved children again thank you
  • by kenessha Location: newsome on Jul 17, 2008 at 09:05 PM
    For all the people that lost a loved one that day im sorry that happen they are not a day that goes by that i dont think about that cause i ride a bus myself i just think sometimes that is going to happen to me hopefully not but you never no whats going to happen nobody expected that to happen it was just an accident an i drive by there sometimes an i dont even wont to look over that way cause of what happen an im blessed that they were some surviors but i want the people that lost a loved one to know the children are always in my heart an i will never forget that day an for rebecca jarelle that lost her to children in the accident im very sorry i know how that fells cause my little cousin drowned about 3 years ago an i dont go a second of each day not thinking about that day she was only 3 years old but im truely sorry about the accident i hope everyone will have a safe life an keep the children an bus driver in mind an hopefully we will all see them again one day they will be missed.
  • by Emma Location: Hindman on Mar 3, 2008 at 06:34 PM
    Thank you for your stories on the 1958 bus crash, which were shown with a lot of professionalism and feeling. My cousin, Tom Ousley, didn't get out alive and we will never forget him, but we are grateful that his two brothers got out safely. I don't think anyone can really know what a terrible accident this was unless they have lost someone they love. I don't know how the parents who lost all of their children were able to go on. I know they couldn't have without God's guidance. Even though this accident happened 50 years ago it seems like it was yesterday. Thank you for airing the stories.
  • by rubin Location: prestonsburg on Feb 27, 2008 at 04:02 PM
    i rember very well the morning of the tragic buss wreck i had three nephews on the bus two got out off the bus ,i like to think with the help of their older brother , any way i lived at allen ,ky at this time i went to the scene of the wreck and did any thing icould to help ,it certanily was a very trying time in the lives of agreat many floyd oountain,people pulled together and did every thing they could to help.
  • by Evelyn Location: Lexington on Feb 27, 2008 at 08:26 AM
    I didn't even live in KY, but I remember this well. I lived in Jackson MO, a small town 90 miles south of St Louis. I was in high school at the time, and it was talked about in the school and in the churches, how some of the parents forgot to say 'I love you, or different things that happened before the kids got on the bus. Yes, at that time we were able to talk in school about God's well for our lives, but also how important each day of our lifes should stand for something. More parents kissed and told their kids 'I love you' before they left for school. I remember for a long time how close everyone in school, homes and churchs started to show more compassion and carring for others. These special lives haunted a lot of people to how much they weren't doing as a family and brought a lot of people together. To the families still living Thank You and May God Bless you for bringing Jackson Mo close because of your loss.
  • by Greta Location: Prestonsburg on Feb 26, 2008 at 06:56 PM
    There will be a memorial service on Monday, March 3rd at 10am at the Mountain Arts Center. The Board of Education will present a plaque with the names to be displayed at the board of education. Also, the PHS Honor Choir will sing at the service.
  • by Teresa Location: Salyersville KY on Feb 26, 2008 at 03:48 PM
    I was born {May 1957} and raised in Martin in Floyd county. From the time I was a little girl, whenever my family would travel that route my parents would always talk about the accident and point out where it happened. I can remember my Mom would cry sometimes just talking about it even though she did not know anyone personally that was on the bus. It was really a strange feeling every time I went by there, even after I became an adult. I never forgot the accident and although I never knew who they were, my heart would ache for them and their families. I think it is great that you are honoring their memory with this story as well as the people who helped in the rescue and recovery. It is a difficult story and I think you have presented it very well. Thanks and God Bless all those who are still with us; survivors, victim's families and the rescue workers.
  • by Jonathan Location: Van Lear on Feb 26, 2008 at 03:38 PM
    I feel sorry for all the people that were affected by this accident. I will pray for their families. Jonathan (age 7) We're trying to locate information on any books written about this accident.
  • by Judy Location: Prestonsburg on Feb 25, 2008 at 07:54 PM
    Can't hear the video.
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