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Prosecution Attacks Mahoney Defense Theories As Trial Nears End

December 19, 1989

CARROLLTON, Ky. (AP) _ The driver accused in a collision that killed 27 people on a church bus gulped down a vodka drink shortly before the crash, a witness testified.

Kelly Osborne, testifying for the prosecution Monday, ″blew away″ defense attorneys’ argument that Larry Mahoney was tricked into getting drunk, said Special Prosecutor Paul Richwalsky.

Mahoney ″just picked up the cup ... and he just drank it straight down,″ Osborne testified. ″He coughed a couple of times. I figured it was just because he had drank it so quick.″

Later Monday, William Boehly, a statistician for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said there was never a comparable disaster with a school bus and that no child had died from a fire aboard a school bus since 1975.

Rebuttal testimony continued today, with an auto safety consultant for the defense disputing the prosecution’s contention that the bus was safe.

Byron Bloch of Potomac, Md., testified that school buses were safe only from Boehly’s ″narrow statistical perspective.″ ″It would be erroneous to conclude that his data rubber-stamp the accident bus as a safe bus,″ said Bloch.

Mahoney, 36, is accused of causing the nation’s worst drunken-driving accident: on May 14, 1988, when he drove his pickup truck on the wrong side of Interstate 71 five miles south of Carrollton, striking the bus.

The case was expected to go to the jury on Wednesday.

Mahoney, a factory worker, is charged with 27 counts of murder for the 24 children and three adults; 12 counts of first-degree assault, representing the most severely injured survivors; 42 counts of wanton endangerment for other survivors and motorists who dodged his pickup on the wrong side of the divided highway; and one count of drunken driving.

The bus, a 1977 model built by Ford Motor Co. and Sheller-Globe Corp., was owned by the Radcliff First Assembly of God church in Hardin County, 100 miles southwest. The victims had been on a church outing to an amusement park near Cincinnati.

Prosecution testimony Monday began with Osborne, who said Mahoney had asked him for the ″mixed drink″ of vodka and Sprite that he downed at the home of Jay Gibson, Osborne’s neighbor.

Hildebrand and other defense attorneys disparaged Osborne’s testimony, pointing out that he failed to mention vodka - he only talked of Mahoney drinking beer - in at least three interviews with investigators on both sides.

Autopsies showed the 27 died of smoke inhalation.

Eugene Sober, a fire safety engineer for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, testified for the defense last week that many of the victims could have survived if the bus’ seats had been fire resistant.

But Hugh T. Spencer, a University of Louisville chemical engineering professor and accident consultant, said the victims were doomed from the instant that fuel from the ruptured gas tank ignited.

″It was over at that point,″ he said.

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