Victims remembered on 50th anniversary of Prestonsburg school bus accident

Photos of the Ousley sons
Photos of the Ousley sons

PRESTONSBURG, Ky. -- It left lives in shambles in Kentucky. 50 years ago, the nation dealt with its deadliest school bus crash. It happened on February 28th, 1958 in Floyd County in southeastern Kentucky. The school bus was on its way to Prestonsburg Elementary and High Schools when it collided with a tow truck and plunged into the icy waters of the Big Sandy River. 27 people died, including the bus driver, died. One family had three sons on that bus -- two of them made it out.

In Floyd County, fresh wreaths are laid at the monument and the site where a school bus plunged into the Big Sandy River killing 27 people.

"Feels like it's be 2 or 3 years ago," says Orville Ousley.

Orville and Alvie Ousley had three sons aboard that bus. Their oldest, 15 year old James Thomas, never made it out.

"He was the first one found. He was hanging out the window by his hips. If he could have got his hips through that window I believe he could have made it cause he could swim," Orville says.

The couple believes he held on to save his two younger brothers Dallas and Dennis. Both of them ended up surviving.

"The little boy says he could hear him hollering for him, but he couldn't answer because he had a mouth full of water, some boy pulled him out as he hung on a limb," said Orville.

While they lost their oldest, the Ousley's are grateful to have their two other sons, because some parents lost all their children.

"Something you have to live with, but the good Lord makes it easier," says Alvie.

While the pain continues, families like the Ousley's remain hopeful the lives of these young faces won't ever be forgotten.

"I hope everyone remembers what we went through. I hope nobody has to go through it again," Alvie said.

Thursday on the Kentucky Senate floor in Frankfort, a moment of silence was held to remember the victims.

At the time of the accident, there was no such thing as an emergency and rescue squad. Months after the accident, James Goble who lost all three of his children in the crash, and other Floyd Countians established the first emergency and rescue squad in the state.

Only one other bus crash was just as deadly and it also happened in Kentucky. On May 14th, 1988, a Radcliff church bus returning from Kings Island was hit by a drunk driver on Interstate 71 in Carroll County. 27 people also died in that crash. 34 others were injured.