UPDATE: Home Movies Surface Showing Aftermath of 1958 Floyd Bus Crash

By: WSAZ News Staff, The Associated Press Email
By: WSAZ News Staff, The Associated Press Email

UPDATE 11/20/12
FLOYD COUNTY, Ky. (WSAZ/AP) -- Documentary filmmaker Michael Crisp says he has added new footage to his film about a 1958 bus crash in Floyd County that killed 26 children and the bus driver.

The documentary, "The Very Worst Thing",tells the story of the tragic crash which happened on Feb. 18, 1958.

The bus was carrying 48 elementary and high school students when it collided with a tow truck and then plunged over an embankment into the Big Sandy River near Prestonsburg

22 students survived the worst school bus accident in U.S. history.

For the first time, we are seeing video of the Floyd County school bus after it was pulled out of the river nearly 55 years ago.

Filmmaker Michael Crisp says he was at the Jenny Wiley Festival when a man approached him with a DVD he thought Crisp should have.

"I went back to the hotel and as I watched the footage that he gave me, tears were in my eyes, I was emotional and I was calling everyone involved in the film and letting them know that we had essentially found the holy grail film making wise," said Crisp

The 8mm home movies show scenes from the rescue and recovery effort and footage of the bus resting on a riverbank after being pulled from the water.

"One of the things that sends chills down your spine is seeing the Floyd County signage and the lettering on the side of the bus," said Crisp.

The first screening with the newly discovered footage will be on Friday, December 21 at the Sipp Theatre in Paintsville.

Crisp hopes the documentary will continue to educate people
about the tragedy, while keeping the memories of those who perished alive.

PRESTONSBURG, Ky. (AP) -- A documentary film about the school bus crash that killed 26 children and their driver is set to debut February in Prestonsburg, near the site of the tragedy 51 years ago.

The film ,"The Very Worst Thing" will chronicle the events and memories of the Feb. 28, 1958, crash at Levisa Fork of the Big Sandy River.

The film includes photos and recordings made at the crash site and interviews with Martha Burchett, one of the children who escaped the bus and was rescued from the river.

The premiere of the film directed by Michael Crisp will be at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 19 at the Mountain Arts Center in Prestonsburg.

UPDATE 2/28/2008
FLOYD COUNTY, Ky. (WSAZ) -- The Floyd County Rescue Squad will be celebrating a milestone anniversary this spring. It'll be 50 years old. The squad was formed by two men who helped in the icy waters off Route 23 in Floyd County, where 27 people died in a school bus crash on February 28, 1958.

The chief's name is Timothy Cooley. He says, "This rescue squad was a blessing from God."

Check out the coincidences surrounding that bus crash and the number 27.

There were 27 people killed, the bus number was 27, the bus driver was 27 years old, and the Floyd County Rescue Squad was founded on April 27th, 1958.

To learn more, check out Steve Hensley's report from Floyd County.

Part III:
As we approach the anniversary of that deadly school bus crash in Floyd County, 50 years later the questions remain. What happened in the last moments before the worse school bus wreck in U.S. history?

Forensic Engineer Roy Crawford reconstructed the accident about two years ago in hopes of answering some of those questions.

“There are some ideas out there about why it happened that I thought might out to be debunked if possible,” Crawford said.

Crawford agrees with most of the findings from a board of inquiry. Those included the fact the highway was dry and fog was not a factor. One of the biggest unanswered questions might be why bus driver John Derosett apparently didn't see a tow truck in front of him in enough time to avoid striking it.

Several witnesses said they never saw the bus brake lights go on. Crawford concluded the bus driver was likely distracted by something outside the bus just before hitting the wrecker.

There was speculation Derossett may have suffered a heart attack during the ordeal, but an autopsy said he drowned.

Crawford thinks Derossett was conscious the entire time and just wasn't able to regain control of the bus, possibly due to damage after the collision with the tow truck. Many say it's a miracle 22 children got out of that bus alive.

Rebecca Jarrell lost both of her kids in the accident and later learned her son made it out of the bus, but then tried to save his sister.

It's likely the mystery of the Floyd County bus crash will never be completely solved.

Part II:
It was a tragedy 50 year ago that put eastern Kentucky in the national spotlight. The deadly school bus crash in Floyd County brought neighbors and groups from all across the region together to help with the rescue and recovery.

Media outlets from all over covered the story, songs were written about it and for one woman it became something she could never get out of her mind.

Jackie Branham Hall always felt a close connection to the bus accident. It began with a dream she had when she was seven years old.

“I dreamed that a school bus was falling from the sky,” author Jackie Branham Hall said.

That dream would continue over the next six years, but the last one she had before the accident was different. It was the only time the bus hit the ground.

For decades, Hall kept adding things to a scrapbook about the accident, hoping one day someone could use the information to write a book. It turns out she was the one who ended up writing it.

Hall’s book was published in 2004.

It's a story that moved many people. Jackie Branham Hall is working on a second book and a screenplay about the disaster.

We'll take a closer look at what may have happened inside that bus just before the accident Wednesday night.

Part I:
On February 28th, 1958 at 8:10 a.m. 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. He crashed into it, crossed the road, sideswiped a parked car and rolled down an embankment into the swollen and cold Levisa Fork of the Big Sandy River.

27 people, including the driver, died and 22 others survived. 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.

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

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

85-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 was gone,” Jarrell said, “but the Lord let me stay here for some reason.”

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. But 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.

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, 1988, 27 people died. That’s the same number killed in the Floyd County accident when a drunk driver collided with the bus on Interstate 71 in Carrollton.

Tuesday night we'll talk to a woman who says a dream she had as a girl led to an obsession and later a book about the Floyd County bus crash.

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