Reliving a Tragedy

‘Impact – After the Crash’
documentary filming under way

Filmmakers hope to release movie
about the Carrollton bus crash
sometime in early 2013

By Don Ward

Read our related story "Lasting Impact"

(December 2011) – Many lives were changed as a result of the 1988 Carrollton bus crash and many positive changes occurred in bus safety and in strengthening laws relating to the prevention and punishment for drunk driving. In an effort to memorialize the victims and allow their families and crash survivors a chance to tell their stories, a film company in Lexington, Ky., is creating a documentary titled “Impact – After the Crash.”
Harold Dennis, 37, a survivor of the crash who went on to play football at the University of Kentucky, is one of three producers on the project and its brainchild. Dennis suffered burns to 60 percent of his body, including his face. He now works in sales for Biomet Orthopedics, a medical products firm in Lexington, Ky.

Jason Epperson

Photo provided

Jason Epperson, 35, of Clark County, Ky., is
directing the bus crash documentary
titled, “Impact – After the Crash.”

He was instrumental in getting the project going because “I felt it was time to tell this story, and as a survivor, I feel I know it very well. I wanted to make this film before anybody else outside of the ‘crash,’ so to speak.”
He says he wants to use the film to memorialize the victims and to provide inspiration that something good can come from tragedy, as evidenced by the many good things that happened to people, like him.
“We have gotten a lot of different perspectives because the story has a lot of moving parts to it,” Dennis continued. “We’re not just recreating or telling a story; we are telling a story with a purpose.”
Dennis is being helped in the project by director Jason Epperson, 35, who owns his own film company, Eppic Films, in Lexington, and by retired UK history professor Daniel Blake Smith, 61, now a writer living in St. Louis.
Since the project began this fall, Epperson and another producer and cinematographer David Geary have filmed 21 interviews with survivors and victims’ families. Smith has conducted the interviews and written the narrative.
Dennis said his team had not considered a Carrollton angle in the film, but after receiving that question from a Carrollton resident via Twitter, he and Epperson are rethinking it. “I have not been back to Carrollton since the accident, other than to testify at the (Larry Mahoney) trial.

Harold Dennis


“I am interested in some of their perspectives, and of Larry Mahoney himself,” Dennis said. They hope to film an interview with Mahoney, the drunk driver from Owen County who caused the accident that night on May 14, 1988. But Mahoney has not given interviews since his release from jail in 1999 after serving 9 1/2 years for manslaughter. He lives a reclusive life in Owen County.
By working with a special effects company in Ohio, Epperson said they plan to recreate the bus crash scene sometime next spring using actors yet to be hired. The scene will not be filmed in Carroll County. However, they may go there to film some background shots, he said.
George Nichols, the state medical examiner at the time who resides in Louisville, has been interviewed, Epperson said. Nichols managed the activities at the makeshift morgue that was set up at Carrollton’s National Guard Armory, where the charred bus and the bodies were taken after the crash.
The director and producers will spend next year editing the film and adding the color and musical score. Because of the low budget, Epperson said he will have to do much of this work on his own, thereby delaying the release date until sometime in 2013.
Although filming is well under way, to finish the project, they will need to raise about $110,000 in all, Epperson said. They have raised about $65,000 so far in a grant and private donations.
They received a $40,000 grant from the Kentucky State Police through its underage drinking grant program, Enforcing Underage Drinking Laws, to get the fundraising started. Funds for the $300,000 in total grants are provided by the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. The Kentucky State Police serves as the designated state administrator for grant program.
The grant request was approved because of the producers’ intent to show the documentary in middle and high schools as an educational tool relating to drinking and driving, according to Lt. David Jude, press spokesman at the Kentucky State Police headquarters in Frankfort, Ky.
Dennis and Epperson have been making the rounds on Lexington and Louisville TV news talk shows in recent weeks in an effort to raise money for the project since it was announced in September.
Although a terrible tragedy, the accident had many positive results, primarily in the changes to the way school buses are constructed, including adding more emergency exits, adding fire-proof seat covers and other improvements to their structural integrity.
In addition, many victims’ family members became active in the then-fledgling group, Mothers Against Drunk Driving. And one victim’s mother eventually became its national president. The group grew quickly in numbers and strength nationally as a result of this accident.

Daniel Smith


Dennis and Smith, both reached by telephone in late November, insist that this will be a positive and uplifting film. “This is a positive story and it can be very uplifting,” Smith said. “Many people involved in the bus crash found a new beginning for themselves and that ought to be celebrated.”
Dennis said the group has received very little opposition to the film, but added, “There is a small subset of people in Radcliff who don’t want to talk about it, but overall the reception has been positive.”
Smith, who has written many books, film documentaries and feature films, is also working on a feature film titled “The Phoenix” to be centered on Dennis’ true life story. He said the filmmakers hope to submit “Impact – After the Crash” documentary to film festivals and hope to hold a premiere in Lexington and Louisville and possibly Radcliff, where the church group aboard the bus that night was from.

• To learn more about the film documentary “Impact – After the Crash,” visit: www.TheImpactMovie.com. To contribute to the project, click the “donate” button.

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