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‘27 reasons not to drink and drive’: Carrollton crash survivor buys bus to spread message

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Intends to use vehicle as visual memorial

By Gina Clear

Three weeks ago, Quinton Higgins bought a bus.

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Although it was not an impulse move, Higgins’ family thought he, a survivor of the 1988 Carrollton bus crash, was crazy.

He even admitted the idea sounds crazy, but it’s not — it’s a calling, Higgins said. He plans to use the bus as a visual memorial to bus crash victims and as a rolling testament not to drink and drive.

“It took me six months to listen to God’s voice to do it,” Higgins said. “I wanted to take my time.”

Higgins, 42, a Hardin County Schools bus driver, said the thought first came to mind while he was driving students home at the end of last school year. He put the thought aside and said if it was in God’s plan, somehow he would know.

The thought to buy the bus continually came up and eventually, right before school let out for the summer, he shared the idea with another bus driver and friend.

His friend found a bus for sale online and showed Higgins.

“She said, ‘Look. You need a bus like that,’” he said.

She then sent Higgins’ contact information to the seller, who turned out to be a pastor in Lexington. The pastor, Higgins found out, was a former DUI class instructor and his assistant pastor also drives a school bus.

The bus and the pastor’s experience was a sign for Higgins, but again he decided not to press the issue and opted to wait.

After some convincing from his eldest daughter, Sharyl, 20, Higgins returned to purchase the bus.

The bus is a 1987 Ford, identical to the one he and 66 others were riding in May 14, 1988, on Interstate 71 returning from a trip to Kings Island when a drunken Larry Mahoney, traveling the wrong direction, struck it. The bus caught fire and 27 died, including 24 children. It is, to this day, the worst drunken driving crash in U.S. history.

Higgins sat six seats from the front of the bus, where the exit was impassable, and had to escape through the back of the bus — the only other exit.

“The best time of my life turned into the worst day of my life,” he said.

Higgins spent a month in the hospital following the crash.

“I was angry at God for a long time. People were telling me, ‘God has a plan for you’ and I was like, ‘Dude, for what?’”

When he was driving his newly purchased bus with 88,000 miles on it home from Lexington with his youngest daughter, Samarah, 7, the pair stopped at a gas station to fill up.

“A lady asked why I was driving an empty bus,” he said and Samarah shared that her dad was in a bus crash.

Higgins then shared his testimony and plans for the bus. He hopes for it to be a memorial to the victims of the crash.

By the time he reached Elizabethtown, he was in tears.

He parked the bus for two weeks, but decided to bring it out for its debut at the Taylor-Harig Benefit Concert last Sunday at Central Hardin High School.

“Their struggle was on my heart,” he said.

In the bus’ windows, Higgins placed posters with pictures of all 67 passengers and his message — “27 reasons not to drink and drive.”

Because of its message, the bus has gained interest from the concert and on Facebook, he said.

His vision for the bus is to gain sponsors for a paint job and allow those impacted by drunken driving to sign the bus. He also hopes to install video screens to show a documentary about the crash, “Impact: After the Crash,” which was co-produced by another survivor and friend, Harold “Bubba” Dennis.

Eventually, he would like to incorporate the bus into demonstrations as part of his speaking engagements.

Higgins, who spoke at a local church as a favor to a friend and fellow bus driver for his first engagement a couple years ago, now shares his story with middle school to college students, especially the children on his bus, and even other bus drivers at safety seminars, church groups and drunken driving panels.

Sharyl said although the idea at first seemed crazy to the family, including her other sister, Kayla, 16, and her mother, Ann, she is proud of her father for wanting to share his story.

“The things my dad is doing with the bus is amazing,” she said. “It’s taking a big step of faith.”

The Georgetown College student says some students drink and some even admit to drinking and driving and said she appreciates her father’s message.

“It’s time to start hitting that there’s consequences to drinking and driving,” she said. “He’s bold. He’s out there to talk about something that some won’t care to admit happens.”

Higgins, who has gone from a contract employee at Fort Knox to a school bus driver, never imagined his life to take the turns it has. He never envisioned driving a bus after surviving the crash. The church youth leader now carries on his bus a copy of a 1989 newspaper with coverage of the one-year anniversary of the crash to share with his students.

“I know now it was all God’s plan,” he said. “I had no plans on doing any of this. This was my purpose after surviving the accident. It’s by far the best thing I’ve ever done.”

And although he has no timeline for completing the bus, Higgins said his goal is to change at least one person’s way of thinking.

“My ultimate goal is to affect one person,” he said. “I know when you see this visual memorial and hear me speak, it’s going to change you.”

Gina Clear can be reached at 270-505-1746 or gclear@thenewsenterprise.com.