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Jason Booher has told his story of tragedy and redemption many, many times. On Tuesday, he brought his story to students at North Hardin High School, a significant place in his life.
Booher, an assistant principal and basketball coach at Holmes High School in Covington, is a survivor of the Carrollton bus crash 25 years ago. The crash killed 27 and is the deadliest drunken driving collision in the nation’s history.
Booher, an eighth-grader at Radcliff Middle School at the time of the crash, recalled his excitement to travel to King’s Island with 66 others as part of a youth trip with Radcliff First Assembly of God. He was asked to go by his girlfriend, and he asked his best friend, Chad Witt, to accompany them.
With just four chaperones, the children were left to roam the amusement park by themselves. Because of the light crowd that day, they were able to enjoy the attractions again and again.
“It was one of the funnest days of my life,” he said.
On the ride home, Booher sat in the fifth row from the back with Witt.
“It was just fun, we were just reminiscing about the day,” he said.
The conversations were stopped short by the impact, which he said caused everyone to slam into the seats in front of them.
That’s when the fuel tank by the front door exploded.
The vehicle was packed and aisles were full of coolers for the trip. Many of the windows didn’t work well, and the only other exit was at the back of the bus, Booher said.
“It was everyone for themselves, scrambling to get out,” he said, recalling a dive over other passengers as they struggled to reach the back exit.
Booher, other passengers and other drivers who stopped began to pull kids off the bus, and Booher said he left that night believing all 67 passengers were alive.
“I thought we had everybody out,” he said.
He didn’t learn until the next day only 40 had made it, and Witt — his best friend — had died.
“Unbelievable, at 13 years old, to witness something like that, to go through something like that,” he said.
Booher brought three lessons to North Hardin students.
“I have never tasted alcohol, I have never experimented with drugs and I’ve had more fun than anyone,” he said, which earned applause from the students.
Those who choose to drink, he said, must not drive. Booher urged them, as friends, to take car keys away from anyone who makes that choice.
Booher went on to graduate from North Hardin in 1992, and he said he made a decision to not let the tragedy dictate the direction of his life. He said his experience at North Hardin inspired him to become a teacher and coach.
“They took care of me for four years when I was at North Hardin High School,” he said.
Booher has since gone on to win the 2010 boys’ basketball state championship as a coach at Shelby Valley High School in Pikeville.
Students will experience their own adversity in life, he said, and he encouraged them to make the same decision he did.
“Don’t let any of that stuff take your eyes off your goal and your dreams,” he said.
Senior Chris Williams said he found Booher’s speech “very inspirational.”
“And it shows there are consequences for your actions,” he said.
This was the first time Booher has given his presentation at North Hardin, and the first time in front other crash survivors, which he said was somewhat strange.
“I know they’re sitting there replaying their own story in their head,” he said.
Kelly Cantrall can be reached at (270) 505-1747 or firstname.lastname@example.org.