6 of the Worst Car Accidents in Recent U.S. History


I suffer from dystychiphobia, the fear of accidents. It's pretty intense. FIve years ago, while staying in Arizona one Spring, I witnessed a horrifying accident that to this day keeps me up at night. Still, I can't help reading and being slightly obsessed with accident reports. Here are six recent-ish ones that are pretty awful.

1. May 14, 1988

The worst bus accident in American history occurred on the way home from a church trip to an amusement park. First Assembly of God Church in Radcliffe, KY sponsored a youth trip to King’s Island amusement park on a former school bus that then served as a church activity bus. Outside of Carrollton, KY, at 11PM, a black Toyota pick-up truck, driven by an intoxicated Larry Wayne Mahoney, struck the bus nearly head on. Mahoney had been driving in the wrong direction on I-71. The crash disabled the front door of the bus and ruptured the gas tank. Within minutes, the bus was completely engulfed in flames. Of the 66 passengers, 27 died on the bus, 34 were injured—most severely. Mahony was sentenced to 16 years in jail. Two of the mothers of crash victims, Karolyn Nunnallee and Janey Fair, became President and Vice President, respectively, of the National MADD (Mother’s Against Drunk Driving) Association. It was determined that the lack of emergency exits, fragility of the gas tank, flammability of the seats and a cooler that was blocking the only functioning exit, all contributed to the high fatality rate.

2. December 11, 1990

Just after 9AM, on a stretch of I-75 in Tennessee, dense fog blanketed the highway and led to a 70-car pile-up. There had been warning signs posted but conditions deteriorated too quickly for them to help motorists. The wreckage stretched for a half mile and caused 13 fatalities. The car fires added to the chaos and 33 different fire companies responded to the call. Survivors say that it sounded like endless bombs and gunshots going off as one car after another plowed into the mess. Tennessee has since installed an improved fog warning system with fog sensors that can change the read out on highway signs to alert motorists and also close on-ramps to prevent pile-ups. Reflective markers and flashing lights were also installed to help guide cars stuck in fog.

3. November 29, 1991

As traffic increased with travelers returning home after the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, winds along I-5 in California reached 40 miles an hour. The usually lush farmlands had been left unplanted due to a severe drought. The wind whipped up a fierce dust storm that seriously cut visibility. This all led to a pile up of 104 vehicles, including four tractor trailers, along a one mile stretch of highway. After hours of rescue efforts in the continuing dust storm, 17 people had died and 150 were seriously injured. The pileup led to thousands more being trapped in their cars for another day while road crews cleared the wreckage and worked to re-open the highway.

4. July 4, 1998

Virgina’s I-81 is known as a treacherous road that has seen more than its share of accidents. But nothing compares to the horrific accident on July 4th. Kevin Chittum, his fiancée, Whitney Rogers, his 13 year old sister, 11 year old niece, and two of his niece’s friends piled into a car to head to the county fair. The couple’s three year old daughter, Rebecca, pleaded to be included, but there was no room. The group pulled away with promises of returning with a candy apple for the crying Rebecca. The parents stopped twice to call and check on the upset toddler. Then as a storm moved into the area, Chittum’s car hit a bump in the road, hydroplaned, sailed across the
median, crashing head on with a tractor-trailer. All passengers in the car, as well as the truck driver, Jerry Douglas Gregory, were killed.

5. February 22, 2000

Despite balmy conditions in Virginia the previous two days, on February 22 the temperature plummeted to just 27 degrees. A snowstorm moved in and created white out conditions on I-95, dropping over an inch of snow in just minutes. The worst pile-up in Virginia history followed involving 117 cars. The terrible accident left 1 person dead and 31 more injured. It also led to a massive cleanup and rescue effort by fire fighters, rescue workers, the Virginia Department of Transportation, and the state police. Amazingly, they were able to rescue the victims, clear the wreckage, and reopen the vital highway in just 12 hours.

6. January 19, 2009

Ice and snow conditions caused at least 20 automobile accidents in one night in Washington County, Maryland. The worst of these was a pile-up involving 7 tractor trailers and 35 cars. The accident claimed 2 people’s lives and injured 35 more, 12 of those were seriously injured. The Red Cross stepped in and took 45 people to one of their shelters until road conditions improved. The incident was blamed on snowy, icy roads.