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Stories of Goble History by Evelyn Goble Steen


News article from the Daily News, Bowling Green, Kentucky March 1, 1998.

A school bus that carried 26 children and the driver to their deaths was pulled from the Levisa Fork near Prestonsburg on March 3, 1958. Fifteen bodies were found inside the bus.

School Bus


School bus accident claimed 27 lives and leaves unanswered questions still.

The memories of that accident - 26 children and the driver drowned - are still too painful. About 20 other youngsters escaped.

It took 72 days of exhaustive searching before the bodies of the last victims were recovered.

No special ceremony was planned to mark the anniversary. Survivors said a memorial marker dedicated in 1994 at Jenny Wiley State Resort Park and a scholarship program that followed are the only public display they want.

Virginia Goble thought about putting on a radio-thon this weekend to raise money for the scholarship fund, "but I was so grief-stricken I couldn't do it. Maybe later."

She lost three children: James Edward, 12, John Spencer, 11, and Anna Laura, 9. "Every time you drive by the place where the accident happened, you think about it. Grief just doesn't just happen one day." She said.

The tragedy occurred about 8 a.m. as John Alex Derossett drove toward Prestonsburg on U.S. 23 after picking up the Goble children.

He came up behind a wrecker, driven by Donald Horn, preparing to pull a truck from the ditch on the hillside of the highway.

There always will be questions about what followed and whether the wrecker was moving. Witnesses said the bus' brake lights never flashed on, and that fog may have blinded Derossett.

The bus struck the rear of the wrecker, veered across the highway, glanced off a concrete-block pump house and dropped 10 feet over the embankment into the river.

One student opened the rear emergency door while the bus was still sliding into the river. The doorway quickly filled with children, afraid to jump and blocking those behind. Claude Kendrick, now a supervisor for American Electric Power, was among those who escaped.

He was 14, sitting three seats behind the driver with a pair of cousins, Montaine and Roosevelt Jervis.

"I saw the aisle was full. The others seemed to be afraid to jump out the back. I had a large book bag, and we were quickly 40 feet from the bank. I tried to bust the window out with my book bag but it bounced back in the seat."

Kendrick said "I jumped the seats to the back, pushed two people out with me and swam to the bank. Then I saw another cousin, Lou Ann Jervis, and an Ousley boy hanging on a trash pile out toward the current. I grabbed a willow or sycamore limb and swung back into the current and pulled them in where some people on the bank could reach them."

Kendrick's seatmates - the Jervis cousins - drowned.

Those final, frantic moments have stayed with Kendrick.

"Every week or every month something triggers the memories and they come back," he said.

Divers and a barge fitted with pipes to drag the bottom of the river took two days to find the bus, which had floated more than 200 feet downstream. Fifteen bodies were still inside.

A School Disaster Committee set up after the accident collected $53,386 in donations; $29,100 went for funerals, the rest was given to the families.

At a hearing called later by the county judge, there was testimony from 15 children and nine adults. They even staged a re-enactment of the accident, but came to no conclusion.

No damage suits were ever filed, but the wrecker service's insurance company paid $20,000 to the families.

The relationship of these Gobles has not been established, however I suspect they were connected to the German line.

Story provided by Corban Goble

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This page last updated on March 21, 1999
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