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By Sarah Bennett
Landmark News Service
It was Friday the 13th, 1988. The last bell rang at Meadow View Elementary School and fourth-grade students Robin “Jill” Williams and Patty Nunnallee were the last two students in the classroom.
“I had to chase them out of the classroom that afternoon,” said Martha Lloyd, the girls’ teacher. “They wanted to tell me so much about going to King’s Island. ‘We’re going to do this. We’re going to do this. We’re going to do this.’ I said, ‘Girls. Girls, you’ve got to go. You’ve got to get on the bus. You can tell me all about it on Monday.’”
Lloyd never got to hear about their trip to the theme park.
What the teacher remembers most about the days immediately following the I-71 bus crash in Carroll County is the silence that hung over Radcliff, she said.
“You didn’t hear people out talking,” the former Hardin County Schools teacher said. “It was quiet. I think it was just utter shock. How does a town handle something that big?”
Radcliff City Councilman Jacob Pearman, whose brother John was killed in the crash, said by all standards, the bus crash is the worst tragedy ever to happen to the community and it always will be a part of the town’s history.
He said the immediate impact was a “tremendous outpouring of love and support.”
“It was just a time of the community coming together for the families,” said Pearman, whose daughter, Cheryl, 14, was injured in the wreck and fire.
Residents remember the tragedy each year in May, he said.
“It’s a reminder to us of the tragedies of drinking and driving,” Pearman said.
Faye Atcher, who was principal at Meadow View at the time of the bus crash, said the wreck was an “eye opener,” especially for the students connected to it.
“It made a lasting impact on those kids, I know, as far as drinking and driving,” Atcher said. “It stayed at the forefront of the drunken-driving issue.
“(The bus crash) will forever impact the community,” Atcher said. “I don’t see it ever going away.”
Radcliff always will be tied to the crash, Lloyd said.
“It happened (in Carroll County),” she said, “but this is where the impact was. We had to live with it. We have to live every day. You still see it.”
On May 16, 1988, school resumed. Lloyd said her students knew about Patty, but they didn’t realize another classmate was missing.
“They did not know about Jill because the news media had called her Robin,” Lloyd recalled. “They did not know that was her first name. All (the children) knew was Jill, so I had to tell them we had lost Jill, too.”
Another of Lloyd’s students lost a sister, she said. In addition, Atcher said many of the students lost friends from other schools and softball teammates.
“Everywhere you looked, it was bad,” Atcher said. “You know, trying to explain something like that, you can’t do it. It’s so horrific.”
Grief counselors were made available, the former principal said, and the fourth-grade students made a book that was placed in the library. A plaque was put up at the front of the school and Lloyd planted a tree for Jill and Patty.
Lloyd said she was a veteran teacher of 15 years at that point in her 27-year career, but no one taught her how to handle an event like that with her students.
“A fourth-grader, sure, their grandparents die, but they’re old,” she said. “They’re not used to somebody their own age dying.”
For Lloyd, she said Monday, May 16, 1988, never came.
“So, as I’ve told a lot of people, if I make it to heaven, my goal is to see my girls,” she said, “and I know they’re going to be there. And I’m going to get to hear about King’s Island.”